Introducing Michon van As, an internationally recognized model and environmental economist. Hailing from Rotterdam, Michon’s childhood was shaped by her upbringing in East and Southern Africa, where she lived in various countries due to her father’s work. As the youngest of three sisters, Michon developed a passion for sports, excelling in varsity football, volleyball, go-karting, and swimming. Her academic pursuits led her to London, where she studied Environmental Economics at the prestigious London School of Economics & Political Science, graduating with top honors.
During her time in London, Michon’s modeling career took flight when she was scouted by Alice Sinclair, winner of the first season of Make Me A Supermodel Britain and a fellow student at LSE. She joined NEXT Model Management at the age of 19 and began her journey as an international model, based in London and later expanding her reach to Los Angeles and New York.
In addition to her modeling endeavors, Michon is dedicated to making a positive impact. She pursued an MBA at INSEAD and served as the VP of Partnerships for Model Alliance, a non-profit organization supporting models. Currently based in New York City, Michon is represented by multiple renowned agencies worldwide, including Heartbreak Management, ONE.1 Management, D.Models, SIGHT Model Management, Dulcedo, and SELECT Model Management.
Throughout her career, Michon has graced the pages of esteemed publications such as ELLE UK, Russh Magazine, and Hunger Magazine, showcasing her versatility and captivating presence. She has also been featured in campaigns and runway shows for top fashion brands like Mulberry, Emilia Wickstead, Stella McCartney, and Mori Lee.
Outside of the fashion industry, Michon has collaborated with notable brands such as Lululemon, Spanx, Jane Iredale, and CATO, demonstrating her ability to bridge the worlds of fashion and lifestyle. With her strong background in environmental economics and her modeling success, Michon embodies the essence of a dynamic and impactful individual dedicated to both her craft and the world around her.
Follow Michon @michonvanas
What inspired you to pursue a career in fashion modeling?
I was inspired by it feeling like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The novelty and seeming exclusivity were intriguing to me. My family, friends, and random strangers that told me ‘You should be a model’ inspired me in ways. Sometimes the most validating thing is to hear it from a stranger or, on the contrary, from those you feel the closest to. If it weren’t for my sister and her friend, I probably wouldn’t have signed with NEXT Model Management in London as my first agency, and who is to say I would have done modeling in the same capacity?
Can you share a memorable experience or story from your early days as a model?
I’ll never forget my first day as a ‘model.’ I had just returned from the Christmas holidays (I usually fly to Johannesburg, where my parents live) and got an email at the airport while waiting for my baggage asking if I could start doing ‘test shoots’ that week to build my portfolio. (A ‘test shoot’ is not a paying job, but rather a shoot with a photographer to make one another portfolio and, therefore, often free-of-charge and unpaid). I was told I’d have to travel to outer London to two separate locations to shoot with two photographers. I remember the night before writing on a piece of paper directions on how to get there (this was back in the day of A-Z books). The next day I remember feeling a little uneasy—the places were farther than I’d traveled in London alone. I even embarrassingly emailed my agents asking, ‘Are you sure it’s the right location.’ And then off I went lugging a large bag of clothes and shoes. Both locations were the photographer’s apartments. At first, we walked upstairs and did the entire shoot in the corner of the living room on the floor by the window. The second was in front of a backdrop set up outside in January (I was frozen to the core). To this date, those two shoots are my favorite shoots I’ve ever done.
How has your background in environmental economics influenced your approach to the fashion industry?
My background in environmental economics gained through my BSc in Environment & Development from The London School of Economics, influenced my approach to the fashion industry in that it has made me keenly aware of the environmental impacts of the fashion sector. I understood the fashion industry in a more holistic way than many of my fellow model colleagues were able, given my academic background. Over the years, I’ve been able to reach into that toolbox on various occasions, such as working on the sustainable loungewear brand, Softwear, helping to product test sustainable fabrics and dyes, as well as simply dedicating my time to building the brand in any way I could.
What was the most challenging aspect of transitioning from modeling internationally in London to Los Angeles and then New York?
I’ve found every move to be a mix of excitement and then loathing for all the life admin that comes with it, and changing my modeling ‘base’ from Europe to the US was nothing short of that. Quite frankly, I underestimated the move. I grew up moving every three years with plenty of traveling in between and therefore casually treated the move to the US. I then found myself struggling to get settled. Coming from Europe, where credit cards aren’t the norm, I arrived in the US without a credit history which meant there was little I could do. I needed help to rent an apartment or car or sign up with certain banks. For a while, I felt like I was moving in circles. Ultimately, I had to pay large cash deposits to compensate for not having a credit card. I couldn’t have done it without the financial support of my family, and I know that’s not a privilege everyone has, so I am very grateful for having had it.
Which campaign or runway show holds a special place in your heart and why?
I hold many modeling jobs with a special place in my heart for different reasons. The ‘Miami Heat’ campaign for We Are Handsome is extremely special because I did it with one of my best friends. The team has also since become incredibly close friends of mine—truly an extension of the family. And to date, amongst my favorite editorial photos by the talented Trevor King, in stunning and very cool ‘miami vice’ style suits. The Dior Beauty Campaign, because of the reputation and working with such a household name in fashion, I had a real ‘pinch me’ moment. The Spanx and Tony & Guy Hair campaigns are memorable because they cashed out very big. And lastly, the Lululemon running campaign was the first time I felt empowered by my athleticism (especially my muscular and toned legs) in modeling.
As the VP of Partnerships for Model Alliance, how do you contribute to supporting and empowering models?
While volunteering for Model Alliance, a non-profit founded by the incredible Sara Ziff, I worked on various campaigns to promote fair treatment, equal opportunity, and sustainable practices in the fashion industry. One of the major projects we worked on was growing and amplifying the message of the RESPECT program, a legally binding set of industry standards developed by models for models to govern behavior, rights, payment, and recourse. Beyond that, I led the rebuild of the website to amplify brand awareness and improve the online user experience around making donations, a significant funding resource for them. To date, I support with donations when I can and am beyond proud of the team’s tenacity, grit, and strength to keep doing this work.
How has your MBA experience at INSEAD influenced your perspective on the modeling industry?
Post INSEAD MBA, I felt a significant shift returning to the modeling industry. For the first time, I saw it as a business, not a job. I’ve spent short of a decade treating my clients and agents as my bosses rather than a business partnership. For the first time, I now have the confidence to negotiate my terms in modeling and do that well. As a model, you’re often thrown into the industry very young and therefore inclined to put much trust in your managers and agents. Reflecting, I wish I had the confidence to speak up on many big strategic decisions made on my behalf about my career—like which photographers to work with, clients to say no to, and how to negotiate my pay. I feel more empowered to hold my agency and clients accountable for late payments and transparency. Our industry, as shocking and disappointing as it is, doesn’t have the regulation and basic worker rights, so I believe it’s really important we, as models, set the standard.
Could you tell us about a significant collaboration or project you’ve worked on recently that made an impact?
The project that immediately comes to mind is my work for a fashion start-up, Softwear, founded by Sabrina Zohar. Sabrina and I met through mutual friends and, shortly after that, began working together. I have so much admiration for her grit and passion for building her brand. The Softwear method was ‘doing things right’—sustainable fabrics, production, and at an affordable price for consumers. To never falter on those principles is a true test when you’re a small business where you can’t leverage scale to get preferred pricing and suppliers on board. At the time, Sabrina struggled to hire quality models for campaigns and e-commerce shoots. So on my days off, I began to help out. From there, I began collaborating with her on different campaigns and collection ideas. I saw Sabrina grow Softwear to 4x the monthly revenue in 18 months. To be part of that growth was incredibly rewarding. I remember during COVID, she had an idea to start doing tie-dye (it was all the rage at one point), and her brand literally blew up. We were tie-dying custom ordering in the kitchen of her Williamsburg apartment for hours, and I modeled some of the first tie-dye collection pieces. (Check out her collection at www.wearsoftwear.com; she also just started an excellent podcast called Do The Work, a must-listen on Spotify).
How do you balance your modeling career with other aspects of your life, such as education and advocacy work?
I’m still always trying to find the balance between modeling work and other commitments—it’s a forever work in progress. On the one hand, each area of your life will ebb and flow, so you can naturally give certain areas more time and attention than others. But, on the other hand, there are moments where it feels like everything is coming at once, and it starts to feel overwhelming—you want to do it all, but you can’t possibly, and it’s only a matter of time before you let down someone, either yourself or someone close to you. In those moments, what’s helped me is knowing what my priorities are going in because that gives me confidence in turning down opportunities, setting boundaries, and being able to plan and set expectations. For instance, I know that February and September are fashion week, so I will not only plan other projects around that, but I can set expectations of what I can deliver and when. I also know my priority is modeling during those times, which makes me feel more confident if I have to reject a project.
Looking back on your journey as a fashion model, what advice would you give aspiring models who are just starting their careers?
Set targets and goals. Communicate those with your agency and hold them accountable for helping you get there. It’s okay to say no—to jobs you don’t want to do, to clients you don’t want to work for, to travel you don’t want to do. Be kind, work hard, and stay humble on the job!