SAGAMIHARA FAMILY HOUSING AREA, Japan – When Sydney LeFebre had her first photoshoot for a large fashion retailer last year, the process became a whole new experience for her and her family.
Sydney, now a third grader at Arnn Elementary School, wore several outfits throughout that day as photographers, and even a camera drone, tried to capture the perfect shot of her as she modeled them.
“It was kind of exciting,” said her mother, Jami, who teaches fourth grade at Arnn. “But, in all honesty, we were underprepared. We didn’t know what to expect.”
Jami brought Sydney and her other daughter, Cammy, a sixth grader at Arnn who also desires to be a model, to the photoshoot in April thinking it would be quick. But the shoot, which had two location sites and other child models, went on for hours into the evening.
“There was a lot of down time,” the mother recalled, adding they should have brought snacks, a book to read or homework for her daughters to do.
U.S. military children living in Japan have had luck in modeling here and have been featured in ads for Gucci, Uniqlo and other fashion companies. Jami first found out about the opportunity from one of her students, who also models, and referred her to an agency. A list of agencies can also be found at Camp Zama’s Army Community Service.
Some companies in Japan prefer to use American youth as models, Jami said, since they can sometimes provide a different look in their ads.
Jami said the journey is initially easy, but a lot of patience is eventually required. In their experience, her daughters went to a modeling agency in Tokyo and had their photos taken for a nominal fee. The agency then shares photos of models with companies looking to hire them. If a company is interested, the agency sends an offer to a model. Only a few selected models who accept the offer will then be invited to an audition and, if chosen, will be given a photoshoot date.
When not selected, Jami said her family doesn’t see it as a failure. Jami and her husband, Henry, the principal of Zama Middle High School, have had several talks with their daughters to ensure they understand how to manage their emotions when in a competitive industry such as modeling.
“It’s important for them to be able to be patient and to accept not being accepted,” Jami said.
As an aspiring actress, Cammy is beginning to learn that those lessons can pay off. In December, the 11-year-old landed the role of Duke of Weselton in her school’s production of “Frozen Jr.,” a significant role for a middle school student.
“I like to perform, so I love to do anything that puts me in the spotlight,” Cammy said, smiling. “I don’t know why; it just makes me, me.”
Cammy, an extrovert who plays sports, sings in chorus but also likes fashion and makeup, became drawn to modeling for the same reason. As in her other hobbies, Cammy, who has received several modeling offers but hasn’t been on a photoshoot yet, knows that persistence is key.
“Modeling takes time,” Cammy said. “Sometimes it will be months until you get an offer. It takes time and you have to be patient.”
During her sister’s photoshoot last year, which resulted in Sydney being in ads across Uniqlo clothing stores and on its website, Cammy still got to be involved.
For fun, Cammy said she acted like her sister’s manager and even helped Sydney smile for the camera.
“In one of the shoots, they said to make sure she smiles,” Cammy said, “so I had to tickle her and make weird faces at her so she would smile.”
Sydney joked that having cameras in her face was normal. “I was used to it, because my mom always takes pictures of me,” she said, smiling.
But she did say it was a bit unusual to have a large crew catering to her and the other models. During the outdoor shots, for instance, Sydney had a personal assistant fanning her to cool her down, another person holding an umbrella over her when it started to rain, and a babysitter to keep the models entertained.
“I felt like [a] VIP,” she said.
While her daughters await their next big break, Jami said the lessons learned in modeling, such as staying positive and being determined, are more important than how their looks are perceived by others.
“We don’t measure ourselves on how we look on the outside,” she said. “We’ve had lots of talks about it.”
She also shared a few tips for parents who may also have children interested in modeling.
“Definitely be patient, be willing to get turned down 90% of the time, and be prepared to talk to your kids about how to manage those feelings and expectations,” she said.