Updated: Jun 8
| This is the 576th story of Our Life Logs® |
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
As a kid, that question opens so many different parts of your brain. The possibilities seem endless. What could ever stop you from being what you want to be?
Then, I grew up. I watched others struggle as they ran into obstacles while they chased their dreams and, eventually, gave up the chase. I didn’t want that to be me. I didn’t want to give up, no matter what got in my way.
And so, this is my story.
I was born and raised in a small town between Daytona and St. Augustine, called Palm Coast, Florida, in the 1990s. Most of my early life was spent there, but it wasn’t until I moved to Orlando that I really started living. The big city was a rush. Everything moves so fast and there was an ocean of new opportunities and people to meet. It was the perfect place to pursue my dream.
For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be a model. I started pursuing the dream in earnest when I was 12 years old and began attending modeling schools. I had a starry-eyed view of how that first casting would go. I did all the work, got the comp cards, and did everything I could to obtain my first casting. When we walked into the casting lobby, I looked around at all the other girls. They were all much taller and looked very serious, but I didn't even think twice about it.
When it was my turn to step to the front, I went in with the utmost confidence. But it seemed the panel had more criticism for me than anything good to say. They were such small things that didn’t matter, or so I thought. The panel told me that they hated my freckles and that I was too short. Hearing that from the people who could change the path of my life at such a young age torpedoed my self-esteem. It was heartbreaking. My height and my freckles were just a part of who I was, so I couldn’t understand why others didn’t appreciate those parts of me too.
So, yeah. That was my first taste of the reality of the modeling world. But, I continued. I stepped around, jumped over, and barreled through the hoops in the business because, well, I loved everything else about it. The music videos, the photoshoots, the visuals, and all the events are things I fed on for joy. They made me feel so empowered.
For the next 10 years, I struggled with the needless critique of those who sign and book their models. It wasn’t until one day in 2018 when I was sitting outside on my balcony, I really started thinking about where I wanted to go with my life as a 22-year-old. Modeling always seemed to be the number one thing on my list. I simply loved it. But to get there, all I could think about is, how can I make it in this industry where all I've ever gotten is judgment and criticism? Because they look for perfection, it becomes a constant battle to be a certain height, weight, or have a flawless face.
Honestly, I couldn’t get on board with that ideal. Flaws should be welcomed. Everyone is so beautiful in their own way. I wished there was an agency that would accentuate the individual beauty of every woman and man. I wanted models of all different types of body shapes and races to feel welcomed without a sea of judgment and uncertainty. I wanted them to feel empowered and take the world by storm as their authentic selves.
Then, I had an epiphany. Instead of fantasizing about an agency like this, why not make it a reality?
I got straight to work. I brainstormed, going over all the details to find out the best way to make it happen. When it came to the name, it was easy to choose. Beauty is all around us with no labels, and THAT'S how it should be in the modeling world. With that one thought, “No Label Runway” was created. A modeling agency with no requirements or judgments, just a place where women and men can come from anywhere and share their beauty with the world based on pure talent and nothing else.
Of course, with anything comes hardships and struggles. And one cannot just start a business without putting in the hard work. I put my blood, sweat, and tears into the idea and the execution. When I first started No Label, there were many obstacles that stood in my way. The first one was me. No Label was an idea for months before it was even put out for the world to see and enjoy.
Why did it take months? Well, it was a mix of fear and navigating new territory. I had to learn all the behind-the-scenes and legal side of creating a company. All this information was very overwhelming, and my dream seemed a little bit harder to reach…but that didn't stop me. I buckled down and worked harder. YouTube became my best friend, and I taught myself everything that I needed to know.
Once No Label Runway was finally up and running, I was thrilled, but I knew the work wasn’t done. And obstacles were still going to come up. There were many people that brought a lot of hate and negative energy toward my company. While I had some of my closest friends help me, there were some other people (that I thought were my friends) that would say hurtful things like, “How can you run a business when you can barely pay your bills?” and “Your models aren't even pretty!" The list goes on. It's rough when a stranger tries to tear you down, but when it's from people you thought always had your back, it makes you second guess.
All while dealing with people not believing in the business, I had to worry about if it was going to be successful, and how to get it there. It was hard on those days not to doubt myself. But even though I had people not believing in me, the few who did help to raise me up. I quickly realized that I couldn’t let negativity keep me from doing what I wanted. If I did everything with a genuine and honest heart and keep doing my best, I’ll always win.
I wanted No Label to mean something more than just a modeling agency. With the modeling industry being so cutthroat, I wanted to break down any ridiculous or preexisting requirements anyone has about being a model. Because, let’s face it, there were so many models who were just as tired as I was of the agents and onlookers. I wanted No Label Runway to be a stepping stone for the industry and fashion world. So, I changed the standard for my own agency.
I really wanted to build a close connection so that my No Label Models could count on me not just as a boss, but also as a friend. It's so important in this industry to have people you can count on that understand exactly what you’re going through. I’ve made sure to build that safe space for them. They are all different in their own way, so having a personal relationship with each and every one of them helps me really understand them and make sure that I'm there for them in the best way possible.
Now, when I am in the process of hiring a model, I still don’t just hire anybody. I must be able to see a spark in you. For me to sign you to the label, I want to see the desire and need to grow and enhance the industry in your eyes. As someone who has seen how all the requirements can break down a model’s spirit, instead of having requirements for all the physical features, I look more for the drive to “make it” in the industry. There is so much untapped potential and talent out in the world, and there shouldn’t be a long list of what is considered beautiful to make the cut to show that off.
I hosted my first runway show in 2019. I did an open casting to see if any models would want to walk in my show! So, at this time, I just had freelance models who walked in my runway show, with no connection to me at the time. It was a sold-out event, and I just remember sitting down, watching all my models walk down the runway thinking, "Wow, God is good." All of this was just an idea for months, so being able to see it come to life was so surreal. It's crazy to think that only six months after I hosted my first runway show, I signed on my first six models and they are still with me to this day.
My team of models!
What really helped put us on the map was the opportunity to work with Izo and his amazing team in late 2019. I was always a big fan of his, so it was a real, "Pinch me am I dreaming" moment. His team used No Label models for four or five of his music videos, and I was honored to have this opportunity. When the first video came out and I saw all my beautiful girls doing what they loved, it made me feel so proud. As the agency grew, I had many other proud and thrilling moments like this one.
Creating this agency has brought me so much joy and confidence. From being that girl that has gotten rejected multiple times because of how my body looks to now owning my own modeling agency, I have gotten through so many obstacles that life has thrown me. I am the CEO of the standard! I am not only doing this for my own personal reasons, but I want to let everyone out there that has an idea know that they want to make it into a reality. There is so much judgment and uncertainty in this world that if we always let someone else’s opinions keep us from getting things done, we would never grow. Uncertainty and self-doubt will pass, so the time to be great is now! And so, I want to carry on with no boundaries. No limits. No labels.
CEO at 25 years old!
This is the story of Grace Sheffield
Grace is the founder and CEO of No Label Runway, a modeling agency without the constrictions of traditional beauty standards, signing models of all shapes, sizes, and races. Grace was personally affected by beauty standards as a little girl, and as an adult, decided to change the industry by creating her own agency free of standards. She now has models that have been in music videos for renowned artists and has models getting signed to even bigger agencies around the world. Grace wants all readers of her story to know that all body types are beautiful, and we should break down the barriers. Prove those that don't believe in you wrong.
This story first touched our hearts on March 11, 2020
Writer: Yasmin Daiha | Editor: Colleen Walker