Laura Wells is not your typical model. Sure the brunette head-turner has curves in all the right places, a luscious mane of hair and sparkling blue-green eyes, but what sets her apart from her peers is her brain. Couturing catch up with this down-to-earth model and environmental scientist, to find out about her double life.
COUTURING (C): Can you start by telling me a bit about your background? It’s quite interesting!
LAURA WELLS (LW): Sure! I studied Science and Law at university. In my last year of university, my modelling picked up which kept me really busy. When I finished university, I stayed in Australia and worked as a model for a year then I got signed with Wilhemina in New York and Hughes Models in the UK. So I thought I’d go over and give it a shot and see what happens and it exploded from there. I ended up doing 5 years modelling fulltime, which was never the plan as I always wanted to be a scientist. I ended up living in New York for 3 years and was in and out of London for a year, and now I’ve just moved back to Sydney.
C: How have you managed to balance a career in modelling and science?
LW: While I was modelling fulltime I wrote for a few science websites to keep me in the loop. I also did some volunteer work for some organisations while I was in New York such as the Turtle Conservative. I then started studying my Masters of Environmental Management while I was in New York, which helped keep me up-to-date with the science world.
C: So you want to keep going with modelling or do you now want to make the switch to the science industry?
LW: It was never the plan to be a fulltime model. I do love it though, especially working in the plus-size industry. I have become an ambassador for positive body image. Using my media platforms such as Facebook means I have a lot of contact with people who have body image issues. I am able to give them advice and I do love that side. I have also been able to use my profile to bring awareness to environmental issues. The fact I can push science and modelling together, and use each to propel the other has been great.
C: I really hate the term ‘plus-size’. What are your thoughts on the term?
LW: I’m used to it. I’ve been in the industry for a while now so it’s just second nature to me but I see why the public don’t like it. I’m a size 14 and for that to be deemed plus size when in the real world it’s just a normal, average size, I can see why women take offence to me being called plus size. It’s just average size to them, but it’s plus size in the fashion industry, that is I’m 5 to 6 sizes plus on the regular model so that’s where the plus comes in.
C: Have you seen a change in the modelling industry toward using plus-size models or have you found that it’s always been relatively easy to get work?
LW: I’ve been really lucky, I’ve always managed to get work, and the plus-size industry has really exploded in Australia it has been great. There are a lot more designers popping up now that they see there is a real market there for it. Magazines have also been really pro-active in Australia using plus size for editorials. Overseas in America and Europe there is such a plethora of plus size fashion companies so there is a lot of work over there. In terms of editorial work it’s a bit harder in America. While there is a lot of commercial work, in the editorial high fashion space, it isn’t there yet. But I think it’s been a great industry and it’s really grown over the past 5 years and I think it will continue to grow.
C: So what can the media do to help?
LW: Definitely by being more accepting and showing more body types and diversity, especially in editorial work. It also helps not to label models as ‘plus-size’, just refer to them as models. This will allow people to see that beauty comes in all different shapes and sizes and you don’t have to be in a stereotypical category to be beautiful. I know when I am featured in a campaign somewhere I get a lot of positive feedback. It’s great for people to know they don’t have to be a size 6 or 8 to be beautiful.
C: What sort of tips do you have for people trying to make it in the modeling industry?
LW: It’s difficult. I’ve been lucky but I did put in the hard yards and I continue to put in the hard yards. There are a lot of free jobs I did at the start. I had to cut classes at university to go to shoots, and jump on flights last minute to go for jobs. So it is taxing and tolling on you but you have to put in the effort if you want to get somewhere. You must also have a very thick skin. You get rejected for more jobs that you get accepted so you just have to walk away and realise it’s not you that they don’t like. They’ve already got an image in their head of what they want, and if you don’t fit that image it’s not your fault.
C: The media can be very negative and people can be very negative, posting horrible comments on social media. What are your tips on dealing with that?
LW: I’ve had a barrage of negative comments before but I’d say 90% are positive and I’ve definitely seen a trend in that. With the negative comments you really just have to brush it off. If you are happy with yourself then it doesn’t matter what other people think. If I can inspire and help some people, then I don’t worry about the people who are ‘keyboard heros’ who have their negative comments.
C: an you tell me about some of your favourite jobs as I imagine you’ve done some amazing shoots in exotic places?
LW: One of my favourite jobs was in Mauritius. I did a swimwear shoot for a German company there which was beautiful. I’ve been to another shoot for another German company in the German Alps, although it was freezing and I had a wear a t-shirt in the snow! I’ve also been to South Africa where I got a bit of time off so I did some safaris. I did a shoot in Istanbul which was a bit difficult as no-one spoke English so there was a lot of sign language and laughing the whole day which was fun! I’ve also done some great shoots with Cosmo and Women’s Weekly in Australia and I’ve worked with some great photographers here.
C: I know you recently did a shoot with Greenpeace, can you tell me more about that?
LW: I got involved with a group called the Boomerang Alliance and a campaign called ‘Kicking the Can’. What we are campaigning to have the 10 cents refund on bottles and cans policy when you recycle them in South Australia, to be nation-wide. The Boomerang Alliance has been campaigning for that for about 10 years and it’s finally going to be put before the government in the next few months so that’s why there has been a big push recently. They knew I was an Environmental Scientist and I’d been volunteering a lot so they said we’d love you to re-create the Max Dupain’s iconic ‘Sunbaker’ image. So I was happy to jump on board. Who doesn’t want to do a shoot for Greenpeace when you’re a nerd like me! We shot it at Maroubra Beach on a freezing cold morning and the campaign has had a lot of momentum and traction. It’s all about waste and beverage containers. We waste 16,000 beverage containers a minute going into landfill or litter in Australia. A lot of the litter ends up in our oceans and marine debris is a real issue not only in Australia, but around the world. So that’s another reason why I was on board as marine debris is an important issue for me. We took some Senators out like Peter Whish-Wilson from Tasmania and Mark Speakman, the MP for Cronulla which is where I live in Sydney to the Cooks River which was named the first dead river of Australia. I think they were astounded and disappointed at the amount of waste that was there.
C: It’s great you can use your media platform to promote issues you are passionate about.
LW: Definitely. I’ve got a big following on Facebook and it gives me the opportunity to show people that I’ve got another side, not just my modelling side. I think there are such huge issues out there affecting all of us, and the more people that are talking about it, means hopefully more people will catch on.
C: Have you had any resistance given that you switch from being a model to promoting environmental issues?
LW: I think with the Greenpeace campaign, people might have thought what is this girl with big boobs doing? Is it another ploy to get attention? But once they realise I am an environmental scientist, I have a law degree and I’m passionate about all these issues, they understand then it’s not just another gimmick. I think people are really welcoming to that.
C: You are also involved with the Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation, can you tell more about your role with them?
LW: I was made an ambassador this year alongside Angela Bishop who’s been there for a few years. They have a great educational campaign happening at the moment, called the 3-step breast awareness campaign so I’m using my media platforms to promote that, attend events and help handout shower cards. The shower cards reminds them how to check their breasts in 3 easy steps and if you do that every day you will notice any changes. They are real advocates for preventative education. They also have an app out which will send you a remind once a month that you should be checking your breasts, and it has little tips and hints on how to check them.
C: Can you give me some of your beauty tips and makeup essentials?
LW: I have really dry skin so it doesn’t help when you are on a plane all the time, so I always have moisturiser in my bag. I love the Josie Maran Creamy Argan Oil Moisturiser which is an all natural product. I generally prefer things which don’t contain ingredients such as petrochemicals and sulfates because when I’m at work I’m always getting that stuff put on me. I always change up my foundation between Giorgio Armani, Makeup Forever and Chanel and generally carry mascara, eyeliner and pawpaw cream with me.
C: Where do you love to shop?
LW: I always find French Connection works for me. I think it’s the shape of their dresses. I’m definitely a dress sort of person. I’ve gotten into jeans in the past few years, especially since a fellow plus-size model, Natalie Wakeling created her brand, Embody Denim which has the most amazing denim which fits perfectly. I also like shopping at Zara and Asos.
C: What do you usually wear off-duty?
LW: You’ll generally find me in a body-con dresses which are generally tight but never short! I do love to get dressed up though if I have to go out. I also love getting my hair and makeup done even though I have to do that at work all the time!
C: Have you picked up a lot of hair and makeup tricks during your modelling career?
LW: I get a lot of makeup tips from different people I’ve work with, although whenever you try and re-create something someone else has done you can never do it! I always get to try new products which is good, although I’m a bit of a hoarder so tend to buy a lot of products. My bedroom looks like a makeup store!
C: What do you have planned for the upcoming year?
LW: I’m working with the Boomerang Alliance on another project again. I can’t talk too much about it but it’s another recycling problem which is an issue all around the world. We will be doing some filming for that which will bring my two passions together. I have lots of modelling shoots coming up and I have some Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation events. I’m also about to get involved with a segment run by a group called the Responsible Runners which focus on the issue of marine debris. Once a week we get people to meet on the beach and do a beach clean up and assess what we’ve picked up. Generally the worst offenders are cigarette butts, chuppa chup sticks and bottle tops. So I’m starting that in Cronulla where I grew up as there is nothing really like it happening there at the moment. My boyfriend and I will do that together. He has always had that environmental outlook as well.
C: How did you meet?
LW: We met in New York, spent 10 hours together then he went back to Afghanistan to work and I stayed in New York. Eight weeks later we came back to Australia, spent 8 weeks together then decided that we were moving back to Australia. So I left New York and moved back and he quit Afghanistan and stayed in Australia as well!
C: That’s very romantic! Is he from Australia originally?
LW: Yes, we are actually both from Cronulla! We are now based in Sydney and working out of there.
C: So what did you miss most when you were overseas?
I missed the beaches and bushland and how accessible they were. Growing up the national park was on my back doorstep and the ocean was my front doorstep so I was really privileged to grow up there. I also missed my family and friends of course! I was lucky because I got to come back quite often because of my contract with Berlei. It was really easy to come back every time though and slot back into life here. I’m glad to be working out of here now, especially since I’ve been given the opportunity to combine my loves of modelling and science.
Images courtesy of BMG, Greenpeace and Couturing