by Rakhee Bhatt

For Wilhelmina model Alva, diversity is a tangible reality embedded into her DNA. With a veritable blend of Jamaican, Swedish and American roots, the London born and raised Alva first starting modeling at the tender age of 12, officially signing with an agency at 18 after learning about the curve industry.

Since that time, Alva has gone on to collaborate with brands such as Savage X Fenty, Rimmel and The Body Shop. Along the way, she has stayed true to her heritage and lived by the doctrine that life is too short not to take risks.

Now newly settled in New York City, Alva shares with us the ways her background has influenced her concept of beauty, the actionable steps people can take to bridge cultural gaps and her beauty routine for morning and evening.


Q & A With Alva

You have such a diverse cultural background. How has that impacted your life?

It has made me more attuned and sensitive to difference—and the beauty of difference—in whatever form it takes. Neither of my parents were born in the UK, so growing up with two vastly different cultures and learning from both is part of who I am and how I learned that beauty is not one thing. It is important to learn from each other.

How did your background inform your beauty ideals growing up?

Growing up, the focus in my family was never on appearance. I was always encouraged to dig deeper into myself. That helped me because even when I didn’t see people like me reflected in the fashion industry, I had a strong sense of self. Our family was always different. We always stood out, and I learned that being different is a good thing. My mum influenced my thoughts on beauty with no rules or fixed notions, and I still feel that way. It was always about my opinions, thoughts and ideas as opposed to what I looked like. She’s a bit of a hippie like that! She always encouraged me to do what I wanted in regards to appearance, to feel free with it—cutting my hair, experimenting with makeup, wearing whatever I wanted—which I think is important throughout your life not to feel trapped in a way you’re “supposed” to be as a woman. I always want to challenge that!

What is your definition of beauty?

There is beauty in everyone and everything.

How do you feel this is similar or different to the beauty ideals we see in everyday life?

We don’t see this reflected enough in everyday life. We still have to fight to change this!

What do you think is a small step people can take to put into practice the concept of seeing beauty all around?

Growing up with two cultures fueled an interest and respect for people from all around the world and the beauty in them. My dad would read me old Jamaican proverbs and childrens’ stories growing up. Learning about where we were from was so exciting and beautiful for me.

I feel that a small step people can do to see beauty all around is to look beyond the self. Be keen to learn about different people and cultures—we can learn from each other. Make friends from all walks of life and step away from what you have always known. It’s really about being open and listening to people. Pick apart the reasons why one type of beauty ideal has always been presented in the media. It’s no accident. Question everything and fight for a change.

What more could the industry be doing to further the conversation around inclusivity and make lasting changes?

I think that there needs to be more depth in the conversation around inclusivity in the fashion industry. Consistency is important. I want to see designers and publications showing a real passion to change and a real understanding of why it is so important to challenge the archaic attitudes that seem to be embedded in the fashion industry.

How would you describe your personal style?

My personal style is always a juxtaposition. I love to mix different textures, colors and styles. I always feel powerful when I play with my wardrobe. I don’t think style should be rigid. It is free and always evolving with your mood. I love thrifting. It’s a good way to find interesting pieces. My go-to for day to night is an oversized jacket, clunky boots and a sheer slip or flares. I don’t like all the “rules” in fashion, so I will wear that sort of thing in the day even if I’m going home to chill in the evening. I always follow my mood.

What is in your beauty bag?

Carmex lip balm, Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream SPF 30, rose water spray, MAC Studio Conceal and Correct Duo, argan oil and Cloud Paint by Glossier.

What is your morning and evening beauty routines?

It depends on the day. I like to change up my routine seasonally and also keep trying new products. I will wash my face in the morning—I’ve been using the Aesop Parsley Seed Facial Cleanser—then, depending on how my skin is feeling, I will use different moisturizers. Over winter it was really dry, so I was using argan oil with my moisturizer. If I’m not working, my makeup is pretty minimal. At night, Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser then Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate, which smells so good! Also, I use a Clinique eye cream. I’m on the search for a good night cream.

Before a big event or shoot, do you add anything additional into your beauty routine?

Before a big shoot, I’ll do a moisturizing sheet mask the night before to make sure my skin is hydrated. And lots of water!

Is there a philosophy that you live by?

I don’t have a fixed life philosophy, but let’s be real. Life is very short, so that’s always led me to take risks and keep my strength of character.


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