In January, Facebook and Instagram were overloaded with support for Shannon Harris. At 21 years old, Shannon captured the attention of Barbados by winning Miss Universe Barbados and continuing on to the Philippines to represent her island nation in the 65th Miss Universe Pageant.

But she didn’t start there.

In fact, she wasn’t very interested in the pageant life. Shannon was a bright and bubbly girl who caught the attention of up and coming photographer, Alex Jackson, at fifteen years old. She began her modeling career in a fashion show for Amber Rose and in only a few years, landed a worldwide modeling contract with Elite Model Management.

Despite her spotlight personality and notoriety, Shannon is down to earth, easy to connect with and very open minded. Her approach to life is about remaining open minded and humble in order to become a better version of yourself. What I take away from her story is never stop working towards what you want and keep reinventing yourself – she’s doing the latter now with a new entrepreneurial venture.

Continuing reading for my full interview with model and entrepreneur, Shannon Harris (and for lots of great pics!).

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Tell me about who you are.

I’m a free-spirited, fun and open-minded person. I model – that’s my primary career – and I’ve been actively pursuing it since I was fifteen years old. I first signed at seventeen and have been represented both regionally and internationally over the past five years.

For the last few months, I’ve started to lay the ground work towards expanding into the product and apparel industries, which will be the focus of this year as an extension of my modeling career. I’ll be focusing on swimwear, eyewear, lashes and a couple other things.

I’m an aspiring entrepreneur and model at the same time because I don’t foresee myself being limited to only one aspect of this multi-faceted, creative industry. I love being involved in as many things possible, meeting new people, challenging myself to push the envelope, and in turn, inspiring others to do the same.  I often feel like I need a creative outlet and modeling isn’t always the best thing for that, so now it’s time I model my own imprint of products as well.

Where did your passion for modeling begin?

I’ve always been interested in modeling and spent countless hours admiring the Victoria’s Secret angels, watching fashion shows, flipping through magazines and just studying the industry. Then, one day when I was fifteen, a good friend of mine, Alex Jackson (who was an upcoming photographer and eventually co-founded Omega Models1 with my manager, Damien Gooding), sent me a message on Facebook and said, “do you want to model?” He had an opportunity for me to walk for Amber Rose at a fashion show in Barbados, and although it was something I never thought I’d be able to do, I decided to give it a try.

From there it just took off. I went to Fashion Week here in Barbados and looking back, that was one of the best things I’ve ever done because the exposure was crazy. I just never stopped – it became the focus of my life. As soon as I finished school I went away and that was it.

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Were you juggling your studies and modeling?

Yes, I could have left when I was really young but I didn’t want to because you never know what can happen. I believe you should always complete your academics and get that out of the way. For me, finishing sixth form was a major thing and I felt that I needed to, for my parents especially. So, I stayed in Barbados and did both. I did as much as I could but Barbados is small and I would end up doing the same things over and over again.

At the time, the industry certainly wasn’t as developed as it is now, and luckily my manager was able to keep booking me despite that. After working so much with the same clients though, I wanted to expand my horizons. So, as soon as I had the opportunity, I left to pursue other opportunities.

And where did you go?

After about 2 years in development and preparation, lots of saving and getting into the right space, myself and Damien Gooding (my manager) travelled to Miami and New York. He had scheduled me to see every single agency you could think of. We saw more than thirty agencies across these major cities, and honestly, we were only able to get a handful of yes’s. It was my first taste of how harsh and critical the industry could be, a rude awakening in some cases, but we didn’t allow it to deter us.

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What was the outcome?

I would never forget when it came down to the last day of the trip; our last scheduled meeting and we were almost so defeated and tired after the two months of travelling. We were like, given how everything has been so far, why would a Top 5 agency really say yes to us now? It just so happened that was the same one we got the deal with and signed on the spot a worldwide contract with Elite Model Management. The Director was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get started. It was at that moment I learned one of my greatest life lessons: sometimes what you want to achieve is right around the corner if you have the patience and resilience to keep pushing towards it.

You mentioned Omega Models – tell me about Omega.

Omega Model Management is a subsidiary of KeDrew Inc. I signed with my manager, Damien Gooding, at the time when KeDrew was primarily a talent management company. Since then it has expanded with various subsidiaries, one of which is a partnership between photographer Alex Jackson and Damien; namely Omega Model Management. The agency is primarily based in Barbados, with operations throughout the USA and Europe. Their focus is to develop models both locally and internationally.

Shannon Harris with manager, Damien Gooding

Shannon Harris with manager, Damien Gooding

What scared you the most about pursuing a non traditional, even non stable, type of career?

I have a great support system. My family has always been supportive with anything I wished to pursue. From the time I told them that modeling was something I wanted to do, they were on board with it, and no matter what they would always try their best to help.

But it did scare me knowing that I could go away and completely waste my time or that it could break me down. I went into the industry opened minded: it could be no’s or it could be yes’s – you never know if you don’t try, so try. If it happens, it happens and if it doesn’t, you can always go back home and challenge yourself to be successful in something else. The world is ours for the taking.

Being in an unstable profession is kind of hard and scary sometimes but you have to believe. It’s just like any other industry or form of entrepreneurship. It will take a level of focus, support and resilience to pursue and become your best self, but you have to be dedicated towards it.

What’s been your biggest learning lesson?

Over time I’ve learned to surround myself with good people and create an environment of continuous learning. It is absolutely necessary to acknowledge, understand and improve on your shortcomings. Having a strong circle around you is key to making that happen.

When I don’t take risks is when I think, what’s going on? What’s happening? I’m scared, should I do this? Is this the path I want to be on? But you learn in those moments that you have to take the risk. You just have to believe. If you don’t believe then it doesn’t make any sense.

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Tell me about a high point in your career.

Right now would be my highest point…so far that is. It wasn’t one particular thing, but the past two years have been a buildup: from being signed internationally, to winning Miss Universe Barbados, working on exciting opportunities, forming new partnerships, products, endorsements and simply excelling in everything that I’m trying to accomplish – I’m at the bridge of my highest point. I’m riding this wave and can’t wait to see where it takes me.

How did you feel going into Miss Universe Barbados? Did you anticipate that you would win?

No, we were training for about five months and to me, every girl had a chance to win. We all got to see each others strengths and weaknesses. I never thought, “I am GOING to win” but I  knew that I had a lot of faith, confidence and I believed that anything could happen once you work hard enough, which I did.

I went in with an open mind that there was a possibility that I could lose but there was also a possibility that I could win, since everyone deserves that chance. So, I planned for both outcomes and I was grateful for whatever was about to happen. When I won, I cried even though I didn’t think I would. I told myself, “I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to cry,” and when I went on stage, I cried my eyes out.

It made me realize that there are so many things that come into your life that you don’t plan for, but you just have to embrace and make the best of it. I was truly happy.

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Tell me about your experience at Miss Universe.

I went into that very scared because I wasn’t sure about the pageant world. I’ve heard a lot of stories – crazy things – so I was terrified thinking that these girls were going to be catty. I was terrified.

When I arrived in the Philippines, I realized that all of us were pretty much the same. There were one or two that were crazy for the pageant life but everybody was pretty relaxed. For most of us, it was our first time so we were on the same page and it was extremely fun.

We were on lock down for three weeks. We didn’t get to leave the hotel on our own, we couldn’t even walk around the hotel by ourselves. It was high security, activity packed and we barely got sleep for the three weeks. But it was an enjoyable time and the people of the Philippines were insane for us. We would wake up at 4am and see people outside of our hotel with cameras and their kids, just waiting for us to come out. It was incredible. Absolutely incredible.

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What motivates you to keep going?

The next job. Knowing that you have a casting or a job the next day – that’s what wakes me up, a sense of duty and purpose. Especially things like Fashion Week, which makes you feel the adrenaline rush again. You’re reminded this is something you love to do and just doing it makes you motivated.

What has been your most memorable job?

Miami Swim Week – it’s not one particular job but the couple weeks that you’re there. Doing Swim Week is so much fun because they allow you to be yourself and allow you to have fun. The adrenaline rush you get from doing fashion shows, you don’t get that with an everyday job, so those are my favorite.

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What habits do you have that make you successful?

Believing in myself and reading positive things. I’m a very self-help book kind-of-person, so I read books especially when I may be feeling low. Reading books, or even reading positive quotes, that’s something I do to keep my mindset right.

What’s most challenging for you on a day to day basis?

Motivating myself. Sometimes you don’t feel like getting up or doing the things that you’re supposed to do. I procrastinate a lot. So I will put off things, which becomes very hard for me because if I don’t do them, I will have to do them tomorrow and it’s going to be a longer list. So, my procrastination is definitely one of the qualities I struggle with…and have always struggled with.

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Who are your mentors?

The people around me; I don’t look up to many celebrities because I don’t know what their life is like outside of their careers. As a public figure, I would say Rihanna, as she is a true Bajan representation of someone breaking barriers outside of the Caribbean and being a successful business woman, all whilst being authentic and completely bad-ass, I love it.

My mom is someone I look up to because she is very strong. She would do anything to make us, her kids, happy and help us with our careers, which I think is amazing.

I look up to Damien because he’s my manager and has been for so long. He knows what he’s doing and has also broken barriers most are unaware of whilst still being relatively young. He definitely has lots to offer and I can usually count on him for good business advice.

My boyfriend is also someone I can identify with, who has been an entrepreneur, is very motivational plus business minded. He’s actually the person who got me into self-help books and truly encourages me to stay positive and spend time bettering myself. He is the person I trust and go to about everything.

All the people who are around me are my mentors and contribute to my development. I try to keep that circle as small as possible because I only want what’s best for my well-being. I want the positivity, I want the advice, and I want the people around me to be likeminded. I often stray from any negativity.

What’s your definition of success?

Success to me is happiness. There’s no two ways about it.

If you’re not happy, you’re not successful. You can have all the money in the world, you can have the biggest house or the biggest car, you can be doing the greatest things, but if you’re not happy, it doesn’t make any sense. There’s something wrong. So for me, success is happiness. And when you’re happy is when you know you’re successful.

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Are you happy now?

I think I’m on my way to happiness. I will be successful soon.

What do you think is holding back others from pursuing their dreams?

Fear. Fear is the one thing in all of us that scares us from doing what we want to do.

We’ve all experienced it at some point. I’ve struggled with it too, so I can say that it’s not the right thing to have around or that you should ignore fear.

However, I would say don’t quit your job and do something crazy, but you can test the waters. If you want to start a modeling career, be an artist or start a YouTube channel, start while you’re working and see if it works out. But don’t do anything crazy in the very beginning. Take wise risks.

Think about it but don’t let fear cripple you to the point that you don’t want to make yourself happy because you are comfortable. Everybody likes to be comfortable and stable – that’s what keeps us going – but sometimes you have to take those risks.

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What advice do you have for aspiring models?

A lot of people ask me, “How do I get started?”, “Who should I go to?”, “Should I do this shoot?”, “What do they look for?”.

My advice would be to do your research. Pick a favorite model(s) and study them. It’s important to know the industry. You’ve also got to do some shoots. Do some portfolio work, post them on social media and reach out to other people. Social media is the best way to get yourself noticed these days.

Lastly, I’d say to try to do as many things as you can to get your feet wet. Money isn’t everything, and in the beginning you’re going to do a lot of things for free.

And remember, in the midst of everything, you need to be yourself.

What’s your long term vision for yourself?

To be successful – that’s number one – which is happiness. To have my own business, which is very important for me. I look forward to taking every opportunity and continuing to build my brand in every way possible.

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What’s up next for you?

I’m going to continue to push the envelope and expand my horizons as a professional model across foreign countries. I recently became a section owner with Baje International after being a Baje girl for the past 4 years, and today we officially sold out, so I’m really pleased with the direction of that partnership moving forward. The product lines should also hit stores within the next couple months. I can’t say too much right now, but just know we’re coming with a bang! It’s going to be very exciting and I believe the timing is perfect.

Someday, I hope to be able to lend more opportunities for the generation behind me and help truly show everything Barbados has to offer. We have so much greatness on this island just waiting to be discovered.

Connect with Shannon

Instagram @shanmharris

Facebook facebook.com/shanmharris

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Footnotes:

  1. Omega Model Management is an international model management company led by entertainment industry mogul Damien Gooding and acclaimed fashion photographer Alex Jackson.
  2. Miss Universe 2016 was the 65th Miss Universe pageant. It was held on January 30, 2017 at the Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines