We had the good fortune of connecting with Hunter Li and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Hunter, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I see risks as opportunities we are all faced with in our everyday lives, and what we do with those opportunities defines our present, and future. Anything we do in life is a risk, whether it’s taking out a loan, changing work forces,or deciding to wear mixed print to make a fashion statement. By taking those risks it leaves us open to failure, disappointment, or at some points we can get discouraged, and lose hope in what we thought was the right decision for ourselves. But, the objective is to learn from those failures. Figure out the point where growth is needed, and build off of that. Since I was a child I’ve been saying how I was going to become a supermodel. Tyra Banks was my big sister and we were going to kill the runway together! But, being raised by a single mother and the dedication needed for my career it wasn’t possible at the time. About 2 years ago, I attended a family function to celebrate my cousin’s graduation from Drexel University. At the function was a family friend, by the name of Marie Sales, who’s an exquisite photographer if i might add. At that moment I had to decide if I was going to introduce myself to her, or let the opportunity pass me by. As I proceeded to walk towards her, my throat was in knots, because I didn’t know what to say or how the conversation was going to go. It was too late to turn back. My hand was already reaching out to say, “Hi, my name is Hunter Li, I’m a new model in Pittsburgh. I would like to know if you are open to collaboration on any future projects?” From this moment, my modeling career was in effect and changed the plan I had for life. Before this moment I was in my junior years at Robert Morris University studying finance and marketing. If I’m speaking from the heart, I went to school because it was the right thing to do after highschool. I never took the time to explore who I was an individual or discover all the things I’m capable of doing outside of academics. Though the love I have for education was within me, spiritually I was beyond school but I never spoke on it. After doing about 3 shoots with Marie, I auditioned for Pittsburgh Fashion Week 2019, and before this moment I’ve never walked in front of designers, let alone audition, but this is what I wanted. A week later I got called back to walk in the show for Stew Frick, whose brand is Sweet Tooth Customs. From the moment my heels hit the stage, I knew where exactly I needed to be, I found my place. After the fashion show I mentally checked out of school, and began to plan my life outside of academics. It was my senior year, graduation was just in sight only one more semester, but what I was doing no longer served its purpose. I hadn’t been fulfilled in what I was doing for a while, so I sat my mom down to explain I would no longer be going to school. In that same conversation I told her, within a year I will no longer be living in Pennsylvania. Once I withdrew from school my feet hit the ground running, meeting photographers, walking shows in different cities, and meeting other like minded creatives. So what purpose does risk serve in my life/ career? The “risks” I took on myself led to my finding a purpose, and gave me an insight on myself. There’s never a risk when you bet on yourself, because you’ll never let yourself down, the plan is never to fail but only succeed.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Being that I define myself as a model, I act as a canvas for the designer to create their vision. But, I bring my individuality by how I decide to wear hair. My choice is natural with all the 4C coils anyone can handle. Now don’t get me wrong I love to wear my inches with it fried dyed and laid to the side. But, there is a dying need for other African American girls to know the beauty in their natural hair, especially for my girls with the thicker grade of hair. I didn’t grow up with the appreciation and love for my natural hair and how it looked. You would not catch me wearing my hair in its natural state. There was a level of confidence I lacked and needed to gain in order to become comfortable with showing the world my raw self. What I am most proud about is my ability to walk into the room with my hair stretching toward the sun and still feeling as beautiful as if I were to have a 30 inch weave down my back. Now that I am developing a platform it gives me a sense of euphoria to know there are other girls who are waiting to see someone like them. It wasn’t easy looking in the mirror and loving my natural hair, because I hated it for almost 20 years of my life. It wasn’t until an ignorant comment was made to me, and it made me feel ashamed of my hair. From that moment I force myself into accepting my hair and loving it unconditionally. During 2020 I challenged myself to not put any heat on my hair and wear it in its natural state. I began to wear my natural hair so much when I did wear one of my wigs, I’d find myself missing my coils. On this journey I learned there’s people who aren’t going to see the beauty in your hair no matter what, but none of that matters because you see your own beauty. I want the world but most importantly other African American adolescents, teens, and adults (yes, i said adults) to know there is power in your hair.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Due to person reasons I wont be able to answer this question (hope you can understand).

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are several people I would love to give a shout out to, but I’m going to keep this down to the four people that come to mind right initially. The woman who gave me life and continues to give me life everyday deserves the biggest shout out of them all. Not just because she gave birth to me and nurtured me into the woman I am. I want to say thank you for always encouraging me to do better and to be better in anything I did. The most important thank you is for allowing me to dream freely and openly. There has never been a time I expressed a dream or vision that was unobtainable in her eyes. For those reasons my mom built the courage I needed to take a scary first step. Next on my list is Marie Sales, the photographer who gave me my initial shot on film. Aside from her being top tier at what she does. Marie is down to earth, and she has a way of making you feel like you’ve known her your whole life. During the projects I was able to collaborate with Marie. She always ensured I was comfortable with what I was wearing, doing, and how I looked. Even before the shoot was set to begin Marie took the time to get to know you (as a client) , so she’s able to deliver the best vision possible. If you’re ever in Pittsburgh do not hesitate to reach out, her Instagram is @mariesalesphotgraphy. If you can recall I did my first official fashion show with no experience. The most I walked in heels was around my house or outside on a good day. This next shout out goes to Stew Frick of Sweet Tooth Customs. I never got the chance to fully express my gratitude, and say thank you for entrusting me with your design. Stew had no prior knowledge of my inexperience in the fashion industry, let alone walking the runway. Bringing your vision to life that day was a moment I will never forget. Stepping on that runway to walk for Sweet Tooth Customs allowed me to find one of my callings. So, that goes to say if you ever need for custom hand painted clothes, shoes, and accessories search @stew_frick on Instagram. To wrap up the shout outs I want to beam a light on friend and fellow model, Ken Kenny. The first time I saw her walk it gave me goosebumps! Every stride she took had power behind it, and you felt it. But, a slide from her fiery walk is a smize that will shame Ms.Tyra Banks. Kenny is not only a lifelong friend of mine, but I also view her as a mentor when it comes to the modeling and fashion industry. Without even asking Kenny took me under her wing to show me ropes on how to operate and network within the industry. Taking it a step farther, she would even inform me about casting coming up, introducing me to other like minded creatives, and providing constructive feedback on how to improve in both my walk and print work. Aside from being a model Kenny is the business owner of KandyKuffs (IG: @kkandykuffs), and a leader in the Pittsburgh fashion world. Kenny brings together other local models to work together on projects created specially by her. I want to thank my friend for continuously having my back and always pushing me to do more! Kenny can be found on instagram @kkenkenny_

Instagram: umwhoisshe_

Other: email: themodelhunterli

Image Credits
Marie Sales- photographer (lavender dress picture) Antonio Reel- photographer (red swim, olive background, blue dress outdoors) Justin Scott- photographer (black and white) Michelle Dunn- photographer (Chair upside down) Stew Frick- designer (black blazer with fist in hair)

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