Joshua Ray: How Eating Tacos Got Me to Korea, and Other Stories
How does a young boy, second oldest of 5 brothers to a preacher father and dedicated mother, push past his childhood insecurities and transform his dreams of modeling into a reality that surpasses his imagination? Here’s how.
While being a kid, born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, I noticed an interest in a modeling world. What I enjoyed the most in that was an ability to explore self-expression through how I dressed, so my interest in modeling started to grow in the back of my mind.
In Raleigh, it wasn’t common for people to attain successful careers in creative fields, including the jobs that make up the fashion industry. My parents, like most parents, wanted me to go to college, graduate and get a good job. Which is a great path as well, however, my heart was not all the way there yet.
I remember running into modeling agency scouts in the mall, looking for aspiring models. However, I realized the most of them were only after money when they required excessively high sign-on fees. Because of this, I never really held on to the idea that modeling could become a reality for me. Nevertheless, my outlook on obtaining my heart’s desires shifted in 2016 after an opportunity at a Lil Uzi Vert concert. Before the concert started, like any other concert, there was a DJ that played music to warm up the crowd before Uzi came to the stage. And while this was going on, the DJ invited whoever was brave enough to surf the crowd onto the stage. Crowdsurfing was definitely on my bucket list, so I was instantly on board. It wasn’t easy but I climbed on the people in front of me, and the next thing I knew I was floating on the hands of the crowd and landed on the stage. This undoubtedly was one of the most thrilling moments of my life, but it also taught me that I could accomplish whatever I put my mind to. I applied that principle to my desire to model, and I decided I wasn’t going to give up just yet.
In the beginning of 2017, I found out about one of the trendy modeling agencies through a friend of a friend. They were a boutique agency that I felt like could help get me started in my career, so I reached out to the owner via instagram. To make a long story short, I sent them a few pictures along with an intro video, and the next month we already agreed on a meeting at a local Starbucks cafe, and there I signed my first contract! Shortly after, while still at school, we set up my first test photoshoot in Atlanta, Georgia. I took the bus from my hometown, which was about a 7 hour commute.
About a week later my agent submitted those images to different agencies in New York City. I tried not to think too much about it as I was trying to keep my focus on school. Then one day I was sitting in my history class, when I got an email from an agent at Wilhelmina Models who liked my photos and wanted to meet me in person. So, shortly after finishing the school, me and my agent took a flight to the Big Apple to meet with the scout we were communicating with. When we got to their office, I filled out some paperwork, took pictures, and left the rest to God. While in the city, I also met with a couple photographers to potentially work with in the future. A few days went by, when I was already back home in North Carolina, I got the news that they didn’t want to sign me. I felt disappointed and confused. I remember going back to the original email looking at their words, “I think you have a great face..” (yes, I still have that email), and all I could think of was “Why?!”
My local agent reminded me that in a modeling industry I might face many “NO” before I receive one “YES”, so I should not allow that to discourage me from further attempts. So, my desire to pursue modeling got even more prominent than it was before. Moreover, I realized how important it is to have a supportive and encouraging community close to you. One of my best friends once said, “to live means to try an infinite amount of times.”
After thinking it all over, I decided to dust myself off and give my dreams another chance! So, I told my mom: “I’m going to New York again for a couple of weeks to check out some agencies. If I get signed to an agency there, then I’m going to move to New York. But if I don’t get signed, then I will come back home to attend school this upcoming semester.” Luckily, I got signed with my first NY agency which appeared to be “RED Models”. Thus, at the end of the same year I moved to New York. It was a tough decision, but I wiped my tears away and turned on my tunnel vision. Moving forward towards my dream was about to become a seed to turn into a sprouting plant one day.
My first belief was that my life in New York would consist of continuous bookings, though in reality it was not an easy task. So, in between my modeling jobs, I also had to work at two part time jobs — one at a restaurant and the other one at a shoe store. I also learned about the spontaneity of the modeling world, specifically when working around my side hustles to make it to castings and jobs. Luckily I had one of the most understanding bosses, who extended an abundant amount of grace to me whenever I called out or was late. In the midst of my side jobs, I was able to walk in NYFW, some e-commerce jobs, and I even got my first campaign with UNIQLO. My parents started to feel proud of my achievements, which meant even more to me.
After that, I also signed to a couple of model agencies in Paris and in Milan through my agency in New York. In 2019, a year after living in New York, I took my first international trip to Europe for fashion week! I was still very nervous and skeptical about going. Any trip for fashion week is a risk since jobs aren’t always a guarantee. However, my doubt quickly transformed into excitement, because “I’m going to Paris!” And from that leap of faith, I was able to walk shows in both Paris and Milan fashion week, meeting and getting confirmations from brands I only dreamt of working with like Ermenegildo Zegna, Dsquared, and more.
By 2020, COVID-19 became one of the most unprecedented times that changed the dynamic of everything, while I was….any guesses? Yes, in South Korea. Now how did I end up here? The opportunity itself felt random, but finding out what actually got me a contract with a Korean agency is a funny story. The main booker picked up my comp card from my New York agency and found my Instagram. After looking through my page, she told me she liked my look but there was one picture I posted that made her seal the deal. Among all of those, it was a picture of me… eating a taco. So, let the record show, eating tacos got me to Korea.
I found the Korean market to be a good mix of commercial and editorial jobs. The only major difference was how helpful the agencies were with getting around in the city. They booked us the taxis for jobs and had translators as staff to be on set with us. And they had dedicated drivers to take us to our castings. The castings were typically a group thing, so the models would meet at the agency to ride together to meet the clients. When it’s a good group, we would talk and take turns picking music. This dynamic relieved pressure and nerves, especially for maneuvering in a new place. Although it was a risky time to be traveling, the quarantine rules set by the Korean government made traveling and working there the safest I’ve seen in any other country that I’ve been to.
As the world slowly began to recover from the pandemic times, I got an email from my Italian booker about an option to walk for one of the biggest fashion houses in the industry, Dolce & Gabbana. This was part of their couture collection, and they decided to hold it in Venice, Italy. It was my first time ever in Venice and I could barely keep my mouth closed at everything I saw. Being able to see the beauty of the architecture, and traveling on boats through the canals was breathtaking and felt like a scene from a movie. We arrived at the location of the catwalk, and it’s floating on water. I thought to myself, “this is what Tyra Banks prepared me for!” However, later found out that walking on water was going to be the easiest challenge of this runway show. As the showtime approached, the skies began to get cloudy. These weren’t the calm, fluffy clouds, but the dark gray, almost stormy clouds. But the show must go on! Soon as we started walking, the rain gently started coming down, which was no big deal. A little rain isn’t going to hurt anyone. Shortly after, the lightning made its debut for Dolce & Gabbana, and, in all honesty, the lightning made a stunning appearance as it complimented the music really well. It was finally my turn to make my debut for D&G, and in the midst of the storm, I felt a peace parallel to the thrill and excitement of being there. I was walking down a long runway floating on water as it stormed, and I was doing fine.
After making my way around the world, I’ve finally made it to LA. Up until now, I’ve been blessed to have a career that I enjoy and that allowed me to travel. At this sixth year into modeling, I’m writing this at the kitchen table with a cup of dandelion tea, while reflecting in pure gratitude for every “yes” and every “no”, every stumble and every victory. Moreover, I’m thankful for every face I’ve met along the way. There’s a saying: “It’s not the places you go, but the people you meet.” And I’ve been lucky enough to meet some phenomenal human beings. This industry can feel cold sometimes but it’s refreshingly special in connecting you with the most exciting people in the world!