Life can lead us on unexpected twists and turns, Neal’s twist was modeling.
I’m sure it would surprise many to know that model Neal Jeup was an entrepreneur well before all of the jet setting and photographing began. Neal is one of eight siblings, who grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a suburb right outside Detroit. In Neal’s house entrepreneurship was always at the center and, when he was only 19 years old, Neal started his own iOS device repair service business, which serviced between 2,000 to 3,000 devices by the time he graduated from high school. Neal credits this repair business in leading him to pursue entrepreneurship full time one day. Neal went on to study finance at Clemson University in South Carolina, yet his career path would become anything but straight. The summer after his Freshman year in college, Neal taught English at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Following this experience, he would travel to Shanghai and work with some of the founding members of Über, as the company navigated their entrance into the Chinese market and developed the initial framework for ÜberEnglish. After such engaging and unique summer experiences, Neal found it difficult to re-enter a traditional classroom setting and decided to take a leave from school to return to work with Uber in Shanghai. Fate had other plans for Neal when, at a modeling gig for his girlfriend at the time, he was asked to step in for a missing model. Soon, Neal was signed with a local agency called AMAX, which was required to participate in the shoot, and so his modeling career began!
Although he never imagined he would become a full time model, Neal thought he would at least participate in the modeling agency’s annual showcase, where they flew in scouts from across the globe to view their models. At the end of the showcase, Neal was surprised to find many offers from agencies in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami that he thought modeling might play a part in his future. Putting his return to Shanghai on hold, Neal took a leap of faith and moved to Seoul, South Korea, to build up his modeling portfolio. He views this time as being instrumental in his development as a model, learning to become comfortable on set and in front of a camera. After living in Seoul, Neal lived in Tokyo, Japan, Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles, California until settling in New York City, which is when he began to land high profile jobs with Vince, Cole Haan, Tommy Hilfiger, Rag & Bone, and Christian Dior. Neal says that his favorite shoot was for Dior’s newest fragrance at the time “Joy,” where he got to work with Jennifer Lawrence as well as DP, Emmanuel Lubezki and director, Francis Lawrence.
When asked about some advice he wishes he knew before getting into modeling? Neal responds that he wished he would have focused more on personal growth in the beginning of his career, than comparing himself to other people in the industry. “There is so much about the industry that you personally can’t change, the agents handling almost everything. And you look the way you look,” Neal mentions. “After entering the modeling industry, I quickly realized that no matter how far you take a career, there will always be someone with a leg up. Designers might like you one day, and run cold the next. It was incredibly disheartening out of the gate.” It was only when Neal acknowledged this fact and decided to focus on personal development that he became truly happy. “We’re inadvertently taught to idolize the fictitious, continuously euphoric, lives we see through social media – like a revolving door of jealousy,” he notes.
All things considered, unlike other models, Neal was able to find comfort in the fact that he would one day return to school and finish his degree, making it easier for him to put less pressure on himself to perform and find work. Neal was hyper focused on the fact that poor decisions regarding reckless behavior would yield underwhelming results in the future. As a model, Neal found himself in a world where the only factor of relevance was appearance and, therefore, saw other models take advantage of being careless with their health through partying and other means- a live fast die young mindset. “When you think that you are going to be a model forever, you don’t hedge that long term bet with the need for stability and health in the future,” Neal mentions. Neal finds himself fortunate to have been able to connect with like-minded people in the industry who prioritized their wellbeing overall and have become long time friends.
Neal knew that it might be time for a change when he reached the middle of his twenties and decided that, if he was going to go back to school, he was going to go back now. Neal applied to Babson College, the number one school for entrepreneurship, got in, and the rest is history!
When reflecting back on his modeling career, Neal realized that he went from controlling everything he did in entrepreneurship- meticulously planning and organizing his life- to having to succumb to a lack of control. Modeling taught Neal that you have no control and that if the agency didn’t send an email with a job that day, you had the day off and hoped for work the next. In modeling, you can control so few things, which is something that Neal wishes was different within the industry. Neal notes that he wishes that models were able to have a greater say in terms of advocacy, where the agency has all of the control in representing you as a model. All things considered, Neal has watched the power of social media disrupt the traditional structure of the business, where models can craft their own persona on social platforms – most notably, Instagram.
Although Neal is currently finishing up school, he notes that he wants to incorporate the global exposure he had in modeling to the work that he does full time as an entrepreneur. For Neal, that may look like many different things- only time will tell- for now, Neal strives to “become an advocate for introspection, personal growth and overwhelming gratitude above all else.”