By Madalyn Gotschall, NewsNetNebraska
The modeling industry in Nebraska may not be comparable to New York, but three women have found their way to the runway, making traction in the fashion world.
All three have one thing in common: Omaha Fashion Week. But how they got there and where they have been since has differed.
Cheyanne Zimmerer has been dreaming of a career in modeling since her first pair of high heels, and started at a small local photo shoot where one connection lead her to the Nebraska fashion industry.
Claire Eckstrom will be the first to tell you that modeling found her as she made her way from the Omaha runway to the runway at LA Fashion Week, and that her Nebraska upbringing is what makes her different from her competition.
Ericka Sliva has been in 15 fashion shows in the Midwest but had to be talked into her first photo shoot by her mom and sister-in-law over three years ago.
Three women with different experiences and dreams, but one very common love for the runway.
Standing at 5 foot 10 inches, Cheyanne Zimmerer remembers saving up her money to buy 4-inch heels in order to practice her runway walk.
“I was 16 when I reached the height of Tyra Banks and that is when I knew I would strive to become a model someday,” Zimmerer said.
It all began with a small show where she met a photographer, since then Zimmerer has had her measurements and photos taken at least once a month. Now working with an agent that managed Channing Tatum in his early shoots and having an extensive group of modeling friends, Zimmerer is proud of her accomplishments. But, she said, there have been obstacles.
One of these was when she was classified as a plus size model.
“I cried on my way home from the casting,” Zimmerer said. “But then I realized I really do want to do plus size modeling because there are more opportunities.”
The modeling industry in Nebraska is limited, and even though there is less competition, Zimmerer said she hopes to work with a bigger agency in Chicago eventually. She said being a plus size model could get her there.
“More companies want a proportionate model that can relate to real women, compared to stick models,” Zimmerer said.
For now, Zimmerer is planning her upcoming wedding and focusing on school at Southeast Community College, working towards her fashion merchandising major. But for her, the best feeling will be the rush that comes when she walks on the runway.
“All you see is cameras flashing and silhouettes, and you feel like everyone is paying attention to you,” Zimmerer said. “It is the most amazing and exciting adrenaline rush.”
Nebraska wasn’t quite big enough for Claire Eckstrom.
Even after walking on the runway at LA Fashion Week she said she didn’t pursue modeling — modeling sought her out from the beginning.
A junior fashion design major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Eckstrom says she actually feels more at home in the mindset of the designer.
“Modeling is more of a hobby for me,” Eckstrom said. “Although I love modeling and respect the career greatly, I’d rather create beauty through my mind than my body.”
After modeling in LA Fashion Week and for a denim brand on nationally-aired morning show Good Day LA, Eckstrom said her favorite moment still has to be when she was able to create dresses of her own that she modeled.
“I was able to connect with the aesthetics as a creator from multiple facets,” Eckstrom said.
Eckstrom said being from Nebraska has affected her outlook.
“I’m not a typical ‘model’ — I couldn’t give up my steak or beer if I tried,” Eckstrom said. “My Nebraska roots in conjunction with my ability to adapt to the real fashion industry are what set me apart from the standard, and that deviation appeals to a lot of people.”
Eckstrom said it all comes down to confidence, whether on the runway, in front of a camera, or in everyday life.
“If I’m unsure of myself, it will show in the photos,” Eckstrom said. “Everyday life is much the same way, you have to tell yourself that you’re going to rock this day or you won’t.”
Fifteen-year-old Ericka Sliva went to her first photo shoot with her number one fan — her mom. And she can recall the day perfectly.
“When I took my first pictures, I asked her to go around the corner and not watch because I was so embarrassed,” Sliva said. “I do regret that.”
Sliva lost her mom, Sandy Ann, in 2009 but modeling has been a part of her life since. To this day she keeps one thing her mom said in that first shoot close to her.
“She told me I was the most beautiful thing she’s ever created,” Sliva said.
Three years later and now a sophomore at Southeast Community College, Sliva has 15 runway shows and various photo shoots under her belt and has no plans of slowing down. This year, Sliva walked in Kansas City and Omaha Fashion Week and said that long hours and waiting are two things she has had to come accustomed to.
Sliva said a major factor to the modeling business in Nebraska, however, is dedication between the limited opportunities and most of them being nonpaying.
“It’s about how dedicated you are to drive and not get paid to spend an entire day preparing yourself to walk down a runway for three minutes,” Sliva said.
But those three minutes have been enough to get Sliva to keep coming back.
“It’s such an adrenaline rush knowing that hundreds of eyes are on you,” Sliva said. “That is an addictive feeling that I can’t find anywhere else.”