Multi-talented model, content creator, and businesswoman, Catie Li is changing the industry through her body-positive messages. As a successful Chinese-American plus-size model, Catie has traveled the world starring in campaigns and ads for major fashion and beauty brands. It is part of her mission to spread awareness of self-confidence for young girls and women all over the world. Check out our exclusive interview below on how she got started modeling and her new size-inclusive fashion collection.
Tell us about your background? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Bay Area in Milpitas, CA. I am half Chinese mixed with British and German. I am a first-generation on my father’s side.
What inspired your interest in modeling?
I actually never thought I could be a model. I was always told I just had a “pretty face” and there is no such thing as a plus-size model yet.
It wasn’t until fate brought me to a craigslist listing for a sofa for sale. I then met the seller, Danika Brysha. She had mentioned she was a plus-size model. After the sofa exchange, I sat in the car for a few minutes and ran back and knocked on her door and asked her how I could become a model and the rest is history.
Can you share with us your first breakthrough job?
I was so fortunate that my first few jobs as a model were great off the bat! I worked with Nordstrom and Kathy Ireland’s brand, but I would say when I started working with Forever 21 was when more brands had eyes one me! But my favorite shoots have been my global campaigns with Kerastase and Nike! My Kerastase campaign has been in September Vogue twice, which is huge for a small-town girl myself!
As a plus-sized model and influencer, you are very focused on supporting body positivity and diversity through sharing the message of self-confidence to other women and girls – can you share some of your experiences or messages that are important to you regarding the body positive movement?
Confidence is key, as well as acceptance of your body at whatever stage it is at , regardless of size, shape, skin tone etc. I always was the “big” girl growing up that I allowed to outshine my personality. As I try to be as confident as I can be, I still fall into the negative space like everyone else sometimes. It is how you can overcome the negative thoughts and change it to something positive. For me, fashion empowered me to overcome and embrace confidence through creating stylish outfits for my body type.
You were the CMO for “The Shade Room,” how did this experience help guide you to where you are today?
Prior to being the CMO of TSR, I had PR experience and understood the value of press hits. It was from there I was able to convert those numbers to the brand building and partnerships side at TSR, which has now allowed me to understand my value as a creator. Also, working with TSR allowed me to have some much creativity freedom that I have now been able to take a lot of my creative tactics and use them for myself!
How did you make the transition from PR to modeling?
When I became a model, I still kept my PR job. Within 3 months I was getting so many modeling jobs, I really couldn’t take any more time off. Plus, the company I was working for was terrible. We worked LONG hours, with little pay and bad attitudes. So, one day I quit, and I have never been happier!
You served as a guest judge for the first fully inclusive fashion brand, Good American’s 4th annual Open Casting, how was that experience?
The experience was great! It was an honor to be able to meet all the girls and hear their inspiring stories! It takes major guts to put yourself out there and be vulnerable like they did!
You just released your collection “The Drop” on Amazon Fashion, what can you tell us about that collection?
Growing up I struggled big time finding clothes, even the basics! This particular collection I wanted to create pieces that would be timeless and perfect for every season! I was so happy with how it turned out! It was inclusive, great quality, and within a great price point.
What do you consider your biggest career highlight so far?
I have been so lucky and blessed, every job I do big or small is a highlight for me. I came from a small town and working as a model/influencer is literally a dream! Never in my life did I think this would happen to me.
Being in September Vogue twice for Kerastase was huge for me as a curve model and woman of color! Being in store for Nike was a full circle for me, because growing up we couldn’t even afford it, nor did I ever think I would be considered. Also, being a full-time creator has changed my life in ways I cannot describe. I mean it allowed me to get my own collection with the biggest company out there- Amazon!
You support a number of philanthropic interests including an organization that assists disadvantaged girls, helps female orphans in China, and assists the elderly – can you share what inspires you most about supporting these charities?
My father escaped China at a young age and my grandmother, who I was very close to, was given away at birth because she was a girl in China. Through their stories, it inspires me to help. My family fought for me to have more opportunities and I would love to share that or offer that to someone who is less fortunate. I really do believe that one opportunity or experience can change a person’s life.
As for the elderly, no one wants to be alone. Sometimes a 5-minute conversation or nice gesture can really uplift someone who is having a bad day. Oftentimes, elderly people are left with no interaction with their families. I think it is so important to support our elderly community as they are often forgotten.
I understand your father lives with Parkinson’s Disease – how has his experience informed who you are today?
It is definitely really hard for me to see my dad have Parkinson’s. With Parkinson’s, a little task can become difficult. Simple things like getting up from a chair or going for a swim will sometimes be nearly impossible. It is just a daily reminder to cherish every moment and to continue to make time for my family.
Do you have any advice to give women who are struggling with body image?
Cut out the “noise,” but also demand for the change you want to see. You are not alone, there are people who look like you and feel the things that you are feeling. The question is are you going to allow the negative to overpower you or are you going to turn it into a positive and live the happy life that you deserve.
Do you have words of wisdom you live by that you can share with our readers?
Never take no for an answer. Beyonce was told that ‘Dangerously In Love’ was not going to be a hit as her solo single. She went with her gut and didn’t take no for an answer…. And look at her now!
Photographer: Alice Le
Art Director: Ami Jenner
hair & Makeup: Carolina Yasukawa
Styling: Lindsay Briatico