From Fashion Week to DoG Street: Emma Sliwinski ’22 starts freshman year after spending gap year modeling in New York

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Emma Sliwinski ’22 participated in New York Fashion Week during her gap year before her freshman year at the College. COURTESY PHOTO / EMMA SLIWINSKI

During her junior year of high school, Emma Sliwinski ’22 wasn’t sure where she wanted to go to college, or when. After taking a tour of the College of William and Mary and working out an agreement with her mother, she had a few answers to those questions about her future.

“I came on a tour here and every single person we passed was so nice and helpful,” Sliwinski said. “It just felt like such a good community to be a part of. It was my top choice right after I saw it. I was having a hard time deciding between here and UVA, and I asked myself, ‘Where would I be the happiest? The mentally happiest?’ Because of the people here, and the conversations I’d had, William and Mary is better.”

For Sliwinski, deciding where to go to college wasn’t the only question she had to answer. Once she had been accepted, she had to figure out if going to college right after she graduated was best for her.

In high school, she had started to model — but was limited by still being a full-time student. If she deferred her admission to the College, she’d get a chance to work full time.

“My mom told me I could take a gap year as long as I got into the College before I took the gap year,” Sliwinski said. “I was like ‘That is a great idea.’ And I got a year to try it out.”

Just after her 18th birthday, Sliwinski signed with Fenton Model Management, and her mom dropped her off in New York City. Through the agency she worked for, she ended up living in an apartment with 20 other models.

Then, for a whole year, she began to work. Every day she went to six castings and an assortment of jobs that her agency had scheduled for her. Sliwinski said she never got a day off, working long hours even on weekends.

“My agency would send me a schedule the night before of what castings and jobs I was going to the next day,” Sliwinski said. “You have castings every single day, there are no weekends. … You would go to six castings a day and wait at each one for about an hour. At castings, you show the casting director your portfolio and your walk and they take pictures of you and hopefully you get the job. It was weird because I was figuring out modeling that whole year, but also figuring out living by myself. …”

Through this work schedule and through the friends she made, Sliwinski said that she learned a lot about the modeling industry. Now, she’s considering spending her summer and winter breaks modeling, and hopes to return to New York for at least a year after she graduates to try working in the industry full-time once more.

“What I’ve learned is that it’s a crazy industry,” Sliwinski said. “It was way more fun than I thought it would be, but it’s actually a lot of hard work. The fun part is definitely bigger. You meet so many new friends and have such cool experiences doing photo shots with the amazing photographers in New York. You go to six castings a day, and you’re lucky to get one [job], very lucky. It’s constant rejection. It’s also very, very long hours for little pay, unless you’re famous, which I’m definitely not. You have to maintain certain measurements; make sure you’re eating properly and exercising enough, but also being healthy about it.”

During her year in New York, Sliwinski’s favorite experience was participating in New York Fashion Week. She said that fashion shows were such a fun experience for her because of the adrenaline rush she would feel backstage before it was time for the show to start.

Now that she’s once again sitting in a classroom all day instead of working, Sliwinski said that while she’s had a lot to adjust to, not all of it has been bad.

For example, Sliwinski said being in New York was sometimes difficult, because there weren’t resources provided to her when she was sick.

On campus, she said she’s grateful for all of the support and resources that students have access to.

“It’s weird to be in school again and doing homework, but it’s also really nice to be around people who value education,” Sliwinski said. “Taking a gap year made me realize the importance of education because I saw people who didn’t go to college and it was a struggle for them to get jobs; they didn’t have as many opportunities. … Coming here has been really nice because there have been so many people to help and support you.”

Sliwinski is also planning on taking what she learned from modeling to form her post-graduation career. When she was in high school, she took a yoga teacher training course, and practiced yoga every day in New York — something she said helped her maintain her health and happiness.

Now as she begins her college experience, she’s auditioning to teach yoga at the Student Recreation Center and hopes to have yoga be a part of her life for a long time.

“I think I want to major in psychology and maybe minor in public health,” Sliwinski said. “I want to relate it to yoga, somehow help people with the knowledge that psychology brings, but incorporate yoga into that to help people live a healthier life. I don’t know what job that would be, but I’ll figure it out.”