working girl: monica watkins–model, philanthropist, filmmaker

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They say beauty is only skin deep. Who might know this better than Monica Watkins, who’s been modeling since the age of 15 but has found a deeper fulfillment in giving back to those in need. In the spirit of our Beauty Issue, we share the story of a woman who is beautiful both inside and out.

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Name: Monica Watkins

Age: 38

Location: New York, New York

Profession: Model/Philanthropist/Filmmaker

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How did you get started?

I started modeling at 15 and was discovered at a local mall. Over the years I worked with brands like Nivea, Avon, L’Oreal, Dolce & Gabanna, just to name a few, and had the chance to travel to South Africa, Italy, France, London and Belgium. My life in philanthropy really started with a fundraiser I produced for Housing Works called “A Night of Music, Art and Fashion for Housing Works.” It was an effort that brought New York artists together to support each other while we raised money for Housing Works. It led to the development and launch of my non-profit, Art In Motion, which strives to inspire, uplift and strengthen local communities by cultivating their children through the arts. We do this by working with local communities worldwide and providing their most disadvantaged children with creative programming that focuses on education and empowerment.

I also began filmmaking when I did the Housing Works event and fell in love with the process. So I decided I wanted to explore that craft further. I feel this will be a path I’m traveling for the rest of my life. To study people and really feel their hopes, dreams, fears, needs, joy and triumphs has been fascinating to chronicle. My desire is that every film project I create has a social conscience, a heartbeat and makes an impact in the world. I’ve seen so many folks in need through my travels as a model and I wanted to commit myself to giving something back. I had no idea this would become my passion and a lifelong journey.

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Whatʼs an average day like?

I generally start my day at 7am, answering emails and working on presentations or editing. I have castings many mornings. If Iʼm on a shoot, that is usually a full day for me.  My partner and I have clients that we are working with that we attend to everyday through Art in Motion. We are working on websites, editing videos and taking meetings most days until about 7pm.

Why do you do it?

I love what I do! I wouldnʼt choose to do anything else at this point in my life. The friends and connections Iʼve made in the fashion industry have also been a huge part of our philanthropic platform. Many clients that we have are also supporters of our non-profit work.

Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:

With the fashion industry, itʼs always an issue of age. My career in fashion has been quite long and I feel blessed. There is so much pressure to compete with the younger models and it can be a bit stressful. Itʼs something Iʼve dealt with for much of my career. When I became a filmmaker and started the non-profit work, I gained a different perspective of the world. It opened my mind to the needs of others and a desire to be more in life. You cannot imagine what joy I have working with children in Haiti or Cambodia and creating artwork or raising money to help educate and feed these incredible souls.

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Your greatest achievement so far?

Thatʼs difficult to contemplate. I feel my greatest contribution in life is yet to come. I want to give more and continue growing as an artist and as a philanthropist.

What might be next for you?

We are really expanding the production company and taking on more corporate clients and artist development clients. Iʼm very excited about that. I am incredibly blessed to have my partners Cecelia Watkins and Theo Dora to work alongside the production company and the non-profit. Itʼs a joy to work with such beautiful, creative and positive women everyday. Iʼm also working with a team, creating two sustainable giving platforms for non-profits in Cambodia and India. Both organizations (New Light India and The Somaly Mam Foundation) are fighting to end human- trafficking and slavery.

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What are your top go-to hair tips?

  • Coconut oil and Organic Aloe Vera Gel for moisture.
  • Try to drink as much water as possible each day. (1 gallon per day if possible) Keep your ends trimmed (4 times a year if possible)
  • Scalp Massages with jojoba oil weekly.
  • Appreciate your own individuality and love the hair you have!

Fun Fact: Itʼs so funny that most people see me as this very serious individual. Iʼm goofy and silly and love laughter. Laughter and joy in life are so important and keep me going. I am a Texas girl from a large family and a household that was filled with laughter each day. We didnʼt have much money when I was growing up, but we had each other and the laughter…

Photos courtesy of Monica Watkins
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