When I was six years old, my fellow girl scouts camp was robbed. Six-year-old me wondered, “Why would anyone ever want to rob the girl scouts?” My innocent mind could not conceive of why ‘bad things’ just happened for no reason.

Supposedly, I started a penny drive to raise money for the camp of my own volition. I was in the local newspaper. I say ‘supposedly,’ because, in hindsight, I doubt my abilities even into adulthood. Surely, my mother planted this seedling fundraising idea. But no, the idea was mine and mine alone.

Somehow, I stumbled upon the fashion industry at sixteen. I got signed as a model. My teenage eyes glossed over with visions of 100K salaries and the glam life.

Despite having an amazing time, imposter syndrome quickly set in. At the time, I didn’t have a name for it, other than: “You are not enough. Not thin enough. Not pretty enough.” It was impossible not to compare myself to the other girls. I didn’t have time to grow into myself or get to know myself. What I did know was that modeling was fun. My creative outlet.

My preparations for college life was abruptly halted when an opportunity knocked. Encouraged to move to NYC to pursue the life of a successful edgy-gal model, I saved up every penny for six months and moved across the country.

If you haven’t heard by now, the fashion industry is just a teeny bit… oppressive. I felt small. I felt bullied. Imposter syndrome was more real than ever. I went unpaid for months. I lost two inches around my waist in two weeks and was encouraged to tell other models ‘my secret’ (hellooo – the secret is starvation. Not ok).

For a while, my weight yo-yo’d until it just became unsustainable. Despite my wins and successes as a model in New York City, I never came to terms with just being me and accepting myself. I began to hate my body but I was pretending to love it anyways.

I thought, ‘if only I could change the way things are and protect models.’ Figuring I couldn’t pursue a career as a model my whole life (not true!), in 2013, the idea for We Speak came to be.

I had one goal and no real contacts: I planned to entirely uproot the fashion industry norm. The first few years, I worked day and night building my brand, my models, and my client base from the ground up. My reward: excited and thankful models who joined me on my journey.

Today, We Speak is well established, working with top brands and tackling issues of gender, beauty standards, and tokenism all while protecting models. Think I still have imposter syndrome? Sure do.

Until I remember six-year-old me, running up the stairs as I heard a knock at the door. It was the photographer for the local newspaper. He snapped a photo of me pouring a jar of pennies into another jar of pennies.

Every penny counts, guys.