Things They Don’t Tell You: Kaigin Yong on being an international model

Things They Don’t Tell You  is a weekly online column that dives deep into the lives of  Prestige 40 Under 40 class of 2020 laureates , where they share little-known stories and offer insights on things that go under-the-radar. This week, we get candid with model Kaigin Yong .
I started modelling in Singapore and later internationally after achieving success in modelling competitions like The New Paper New Face 2017 and Star Fashion Look of The Year 2018. Through these competitions I was scouted by my current agencies, NOW Model Management Singapore, FORD Models New York & Paris, View Management Spain, Wilhelmina London and Why Not Models Milan. While this strong network of agencies helped to kickstart my international modelling career in the world’s major fashion capitals, little do people know that my modelling journey was not as smooth sailing as it seems.
Prior to being scouted, I took a leap of faith and went to Europe alone with my portfolio in hand. I personally set up meetings with modelling agencies in an attempt to get signed by them.
I faced countless rejections and the agencies I signed with ended up working against me as they did not provide the support system I needed. While I was at a loss, I decided to make the best out of the situation by using Instagram to network and collaborate with creatives across Europe. This experience not only led to incredible working opportunities, I also grew to become a more resilient individual.
I value every experience in modelling . Some of my major career milestones include shooting for Burberry and walking for esteemed designers like Dries Van Noten x Christian Lacroix, Yohji Yamamoto, Lemaire, Balmain, Erdem and Jason Wu. Rather than highlighting one particular success, my greatest professional achievement would be championing my identity as a Singaporean model on a global stage.
I’m almost sick of hearing that modelling is an easy job. Being a model requires so much more than a pretty face. We also need to be independent, adapt quickly to unexpected situations and emotionally resilient to handle direct rejections and criticisms on a constant basis.
I was a studious child so I would tell my younger self to play more and worry less about meeting expectations!
I’m proud to be a jack of all trades with fervour for learning and personal development. I am someone who enjoys learning diverse skills even if they are unexpected or unrelated to my profession. Since young, I played table tennis competitively, learned the violin and even dabbled at journalism (my awkward debut was during 2010 Youth Olympic Games).
I also took on multiple part-time jobs, such as tutoring and working at the hospital as an assistant in the speech therapy and nursing departments. More recently, I picked up new digital marketing skills! I believe there should be no limits to learning and diversifying one’s skill set.
I’m passionate about making a difference. I strive to use my platform for greater purposes, such as supporting the work of Singapore’s fashion community and other social causes that I stand for.
I trained my eyes to be myopic because I was envious of my friends who wore glasses. A point of no return.
There’s courage in being different. It is so important to be able to be true to yourself and not what others want you to be. I find myself unintentionally defying others’ expectations when it comes to pursuits in career and life. I also take pride in my work ethic as I strongly believe being conscientious, hardworking and professional will go a long way.
But I try to do everything on my own and not asking for help when needed. I am also overly self-critical as I am afraid of being complacent.
Life is unpredictable, now more so than ever. I need to stop with excessive planning and learn to enjoy living in the present, constantly adapting and pivoting in the process of change.
Fear is what drives me forward.  I’m inspired by my domestic helper of 21 years. I affectionately call her Aunty Dang. She is one of my role models in life, instilling in me values of being grateful, real, humble and to live life with courage. The sacrifices and hardships she went through to support her family in the Philippines have also inspired my work ethic: to work hard and be strong and resilient even when times are tough.
We can become more compassionate by doing and not just saying. If we do not actually put ourselves in the position of those in need and take action, just empty words can do more harm than good.
Do not use failure as an excuse for giving up. Embrace failures as they are necessary for improvement.
Taking long walks without a set destination is therapeutic to me as I can take the time to reflect and listen to my thoughts.
God forgive me, but I have yet to make the best out of the life you have given me.