Sherry Shi on how the Airplane Test Can Secure A Model’s Career

After debuting in 2018, newly minted hot-lister Sherry Shi broke new ground at fashion week during a year that was structurally unstable. In September with New York closed off from the rest of the Europe’s fashion weeks due to the pandemic, the Texan native riskily packed her bags, headed over to London after a mandatory quarantine, and subsequently took off. She walked for mega-watt productions at Burberry, Chanel, Valentino, Acne Studios and Versace while even locking in the off-schedule shows of note like Raf Simons and Celine. Now as she secures money jobs like Givenchy and Jil Sander lookbooks, we spoke to the teenage rising star on her year so far, the model icon she emulates, and how modeling is a family affair.

Where are you from and how were you discovered?
I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. My older sister signed with a local agency and started modeling when I was 7 years old. I was always fascinated when I saw her dressed up in beautiful clothing and walking on runways, so I would try on the heels that she practiced in (they were way too big for my feet at the time) and mimicked her runway walk. When I was 13 years old, Ally, the head of my sister’s agency spotted me with my mom when we were picking up my sister from an event. I was only 5’7” at the time, but Ally encouraged me to join as a child model and take modeling training classes. When I finally hit my growth spurt at 16, I was introduced to some of the best agencies in New York and ultimately decided to go with IMG.

So you’re not the only model in your family – what’s the most important advice you got from your sister Angel on the business?
The most important advice I have gotten from my sister is be smart and self-aware. It sounds simple, yet it is essential for success in any industry, but especially in fashion because it’s very relationship focused. Something she taught me about that has stuck with me was the airport test. The concept was that employers in finance and consulting only want to hire candidates who would be enjoyable to converse with in a long airplane flight since their teams work long hours together. My sister told me the same concept applies to modeling since models have to spend long hours at the studio with clients and their team. Your clients will remember which models were enjoyable to work with and will take that into consideration when booking future jobs, so being personable and engaging is a must. You’re not only a pretty face, you need to be able to understand the industry as a business and conduct yourself accordingly to meet your client’s needs and expectations as well. My sister is someone I look up to greatly as she is very intelligent herself!

How do you balance your time studying marketing and modeling?
It’s all about managing your time well and being organized. Let’s say I’m busy the next week with work. I will work on school the days in advance so that I can work the next week without being behind. Education is greatly valued in my family, so I will be pursuing a college degree no matter what. Marketing and business will also help me navigate and grow in the industry since at the end of the day, fashion labels are businesses.

What is one thing you have to do before you start a workday and why?
One thing I have to do every morning is pray. I am a very strong Christian, and I find that my relationship with God is the most important thing in my life to me. When I pray, I feel at peace, fulfilled, and ready to take on whatever comes my way.

Even though 2020 was a nightmare you had a busy season last fall, walking for enough shows to put you on Top Newcomers. How did you navigate traveling in a pandemic and what has been the most defining moment of your career thus far?
The most defining moment was definitely having a breakthrough season despite the pandemic. I was very honored that I got to walk some amazing shows like Burberry, Celine, Chanel, Valentino, and Versace last fall in Europe. It made me feel that all my efforts paid off after spending my years prior to turning 18 in Tokyo and Singapore to build my book and gain experience. I waited 2 years to be of legal age to participate and the years prior to that were used to grow my knowledge of the industry.

How did 2020 affect your creativity as a model?
I tried to turn a bad situation into a positive experience during the pandemic and be creative in a unique way. Since we were all stuck at home, I learned a lot about cooking Asian cuisine, which I didn’t have the time to do before. I also have more time to watch a lot more model compilations on YouTube to see what areas I can improve on.

Is there anyone that you look up to in the industry and why?
There are many amazing models in the industry that I admire, but a model that I look up to is Xiao Wen Ju. She has found tremendous success in such a competitive industry yet still keeps a very genuine and welcoming nature with her. She embodies everything I want to be – headstrong, adorable, beautiful inside and out, and independent.

What was the one thing that surprised you most about the fashion industry?
One thing that surprised me is people in fashion work for love and passion. While making money and paying bills are inevitable realities everyone has to face, most people in the fashion industry are die-hard art lovers! The professionals in this industry are so talented and wise. They could possibly make an easier living doing something else, but instead, they work furiously in hot and cold studios even without AC sometimes, they work tirelessly on sets day and night for a flawless look, they barely sleep during fashion week, and they are so tenacious in seeking perfection on every detail. I have been grateful to have so many encounters with designers, photographers, make-up artists, and casting directors, they have all inspired me to be a better person and model!

What is the most surprising thing about you?
I think the most surprising thing about me is that I’m into investing. I was able to take advantage of the volatility caused by the pandemic and use it as a learning opportunity for trading in the stock market with the help of my sister. I don’t think that’s something people would expect from me if they were to just browse my Instagram, haha.

What does a “new normal world” look like for you post-pandemic?
A “new normal world” for me would ideally be a world filled with more gratitude. I think the pandemic has forced us to start appreciating things that we used to take for granted—traveling, financial stability, being with loved ones. I’m hoping that once we are able to do these things again, people will show more gratitude for the things they have as well as appreciate all the people who have had to make sacrifices to save lives and keep the country running during the pandemic.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?
I’m looking forward to seeing friends and loved ones again in 2021. Assuming things start to get under control, I’d love to be able to visit my family in China again when things calm down.