Model Behavior

Kiara Newell—model, mom, entrepreneur, fashion designer, and YouTuber—learned early in life to ignore the word “no.”

“I was always the child who asked, why?” Newell says. “Why is this like this? Well, I’m going to change that.”

True to her word, Newell has broken the mold in the way she approaches her career as well as her family life, which includes five—count them, five—children: two sets of twins (ages six and three, respectively) and a four-month-old baby. Her career is another high-wire act: in between runway shows and other modeling gigs, including work at Tyler Perry’s studio in Atlanta, she’s also launched a “Mommy Model” vlog on YouTube, and she’s venturing into fashion design starting with a show planned for spring.

Still another new venture came from an idea she stumbled upon by accident. Local artist Deon Wills had seen some of her modeling shots and was inspired to interpret them as stylized portraits. These became works of art in their own right, which gave Newell the idea of using the art to build her brand.

Now Newell and Wills are collaborating on a new business—Prime Designs, LLC—which produces t-shirts, hoodies, totes, cell phone cases, and a growing list of other merchandise featuring her image. Eventually Newell hopes to bring other models and their images into the project.

“My mission is to blend fashion and art into everyday life with purpose,” Newell says. “I plan on continuing to motivate our young people in the community and while doing so grab the attention of others on a larger scale.”

Wills, who typically draws comic-book-style works, says the idea was a departure for him but also an adventure. “Drawing portraits is really not my specialty,” he says. “It’s very difficult, because if you get anything wrong, it’s not going to look like that person. But since Kiara is a model, and in her photographs she has such striking, unique outfits and jewelry, I had the idea to play off the style of Patrick Nagel, who was an artist in the ‘80s—using that aesthetic but also putting my spin on it.” (One of Newell’s personal favorites has her holding a 200-pound snake; Wills says he modeled the snake after Kaa in The Jungle Book.)

Newell says she has a lot of reasons for taking a chance by launching Prime Designs. One is that she loves modeling but wanted another avenue for building her career.  “As models, we’re supposed to be like the clothes hanger, honestly,” she says. “We’re supposed to wear the clothes, and we’re not supposed to stand out more than the clothing. But hey, I am a person. I am a brand. I would like to stand out as well.”

At the same time, she wants to build her brand to inspire other women to take risks. “As soon as Deon sent me that first picture, I had an idea—wait a minute, I can put this on a shirt and sell it; I can put this on merchandise. And if you know my backstory, that’s inspiration.”

Newell, whose “Mommy Model” videos on YouTube gleefully show both the glamour and the chaos that co-exist in her daily life (watching Newell fix five children’s hair before breakfast is itself a wonder to behold), says she didn’t start out with any inclination to pursue modeling.

“Growing up, I was picked on by other kids because of my dark skin, thick glasses and being super thin,” she says. “Some of the kids picked on me because of the way I dressed. I’ve always had my own sense of style and life.” Newell says she never let the teasing break her spirit, though. “My parents raised me to have thick skin. I was one of the lucky ones to turn all of the negatives into positives. I began to make a mental list of everything (people said) and set them as stepping stones to beat the odds.”

As she grew up, people took note of her natural beauty and trim build and encouraged Newell to pursue modeling. At the time, she wasn’t interested, and anyway, her priority was starting a family. But eventually she came around to the idea. “After my second set of twins turned one, I woke up and said, ‘I need to do something for myself. I want to feel beautiful and powerful, so why not model?’” Newell went to a few casting calls, began to get offers for photo shoots “and things skyrocketed from there. This was one of the best decisions of my life. I was helping brands bring their ideas to life, and I also wanted to inspire others who have experienced body shaming, rejection, bullying, and labeling.” She says her message is, “When you see my face, just remember that I’m just like you.” 



The Merch: Shop for Prime Designs clothing and accessories at

Upcoming Show:

Newell’s own fashion designs will be shown for the first time this spring at “The Rebirth Fashion Show,” presented by Heru Ra Creations April 7 at the Bessemer Civic Center.

Social Media:

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