New Fire

How international model Jade Willoughby stays grounded in culture and tradition

'This life that I’m pursuing is so inherently the opposite of the life that I’ve grown up knowing.'
'This life that I’m pursuing is so inherently the opposite of the life that I’ve grown up knowing.' (Jade Willoughby / Instagram)

Jade Willoughby began modelling when she was just 16, but it wasn't until she signed with an agency and moved to New York City that she began to truly realize what it meant to be away from home and culture.

"The most common question that I get is, quite literally 'What are you?'," Willoughby told New Fire. "I'm always like, 'Well I'm a human being.'"

Willoughby is a spiritual person who makes a point of carrying tobacco and traditions along with her when she travels. The first time she went to New York, she decided to go for a walk and put down tobacco. Things didn't go as she planned: 

"I realize that it's a plastic tree and plastic grass. I went about four or five blocks — and in New York those are not short blocks — and I realized that there was nowhere that I could put down my tobacco. It wasn't until the next day when I had to go all the way to Central Park [to] find a place where I could comfortably put it on the ground."

"That was my first awakening and culture shock to realize how much this life that I'm pursuing is so inherently the opposite of the life that I've grown up knowing... with my family and all my elders and all my community."

After a few years in living in New York and modelling internationally in places like Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Argentina, the travel began to take its toll. Willoughby made the difficult decision to move back home to reconnect to the culture and traditions that she craved. 

"This life that I'm pursuing is so inherently the opposite of the life that I've grown up knowing... with my family and all my elders and all my community." (Jade Willoughby / Instagram)

Now, she's gearing up to return to New York City once again — and just signed a new modelling contract. As Willoughby prepares to head back, New Fire host Lisa Charleyboy asked her what advice she has for young Indigenous people trying stay grounded in the city. 

"Really begin to know yourself and explore," she said. "And trust in your judgement, because you are the most brilliant person in the world, and there's nobody else that will know what's better for you than you."

(Jade Willoughby / Instagram)

now