Kenya Kinski Jones represents the empowering and thoughtful activist that people are so desperate for during this difficult time. Her wise beyond her years sensibilities allow her to meticulously navigate the “new normal”. Kenya’s Instagram presence is authentic, specifically highlighting the current social justice movement. She recognizes and is excited by the shift of media that is occurring mid-pandemic.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, the twenty-seven-year-old American model is warm and endearing, emanating positive energy during a particularly negative time. Kinski Jones got her start in fashion when she was discovered by Bruce Weber at her mother Nastassja Kinski’s photoshoot. During her teenage years, she modeled on and off and fully committed to the profession after graduating from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in writing. Since then, she has worked closely with Chanel and Stella McCartney. Throughout her modeling endeavors, she has stayed authentic to her true self and has made balancing her passion for animal rights and climate change a priority, along with her love of fashion.
I caught up with Kenya over Zoom to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, social media, new age activism, the upcoming election, sisterhood, and romantic comedies.
Elliot Stephanopoulos: Were you in LA for any of the pandemic or have you always been in New York?
Kenya Kinski Jones: Yeah, I was in LA from March to May and then I was supposed to come to New York for a couple of weeks and it just kind of ended up being a few months. Just because we didn’t know how long this was going to go and just taking it day by day.
ES:What have you been doing? I’ve had school, so I was busy doing that, but a lot of people were baking, what did you do? Or what are you doing in this time?
Kenya Kinski Jones: In the beginning, I’m definitely not an expert in the kitchen so I was trying to strengthen my cooking skills a little bit. I don’t know, it’s just been a crazy weird existence taking everything day by day. It just feels like a brand new way of existing, so just taking everything day by day.
ES: Yeah, it’s still such a new normal, like when I see people not wearing masks, I have to re- register like, “Oh, they’re supposed to be wearing a mask.”
Kenya Kinski Jones: Yeah, 100%.
ES: Or when I’m on Instagram and looking at old posts, I’m like, “Oh my God, they’re in a big group, not wearing a mask, that’s so… “
Kenya Kinski Jones: I know.
ES: Like months ago.
Kenya Kinski Jones: I know, I’ve been thinking that way too. It’s like having a brand new social brain or something, it’s crazy.
ES: I know, I’ve been like, “How are people keeping busy that aren’t in school?” because I feel like school’s taking up so much of my time.
Kenya Kinski Jones: I know, and that’s a good thing. I think people are just kind of, I don’t know, creating new routines. I don’t know, in a weird way, it’s kind of like refreshing in the sense that it’s different from your normal everyday life. You kind of have to re-imagine what your life looks like, so I feel like in a way it keeps you occupied and is refreshing.
ES: There’s also no FOMO, which I love.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Yeah, definitely.
ES: There’s no more like Snap Maps, seeing who’s at a party because no one’s doing anything, so there’s no FOMO.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Exactly.
ES: So I feel like there’s a lot less social pressure and I think going forward now, people are going to realize, “Oh, we don’t need to have an office for this or we don’t need to have a party.”
Kenya Kinski Jones: Totally! People are going to be working from home for sure.
ES: When my dad was working at home, I was like, “I haven’t had breakfast with my dad since I was two”. It was so weird. I was like, “Why are you here?”.
Kenya Kinski Jones: But that’s the good part of it, right?
ES: Yeah, I think the biggest change I’ve seen in this time is the way social media is used. I feel like even though it’s been a negative time, I feel like social media has become more positive.
Kenya Kinski Jones: I could not agree with you more. I feel like even more so with the devastation that’s been happening within quarantine, just that alone I feel like it’s kind of created… I mean, with social media, you have the negative aspects and the positive aspects, but I feel like there’s been a new sense of community on social media and I feel like people are using their platforms at whatever capacity to speak out about what’s affecting our world.
I think we’re all learning so much in that way too, much more so than before. One of the things that I’ve noticed is as we’re learning and as we’re educating ourselves and creating these conversations, there’s a time to use your platform for that and then there’s also a time to amplify other voices and experiences and identities. I feel like identifying when it’s time to do either one of those is really important.
ES: Yeah, it’s been really inspiring just to see people that I follow, whether they’re my age and my school or celebrities, because I’ve been like, “Okay, at least what I’m seeing, everyone’s on the same page and everyone has good intentions with how they’re using their social media.”
Kenya Kinski Jones: I couldn’t agree more, and I feel like there’s a new bravery in regards to vulnerability. I feel like people are really showing themselves, their heart and their flaws and it’s really refreshing. It’s funny you said that because I’ve actually been seeing the same thing.
ES: I’m glad for it especially as I think it’s become less about, “Oh, bikini photos, be jealous of me.” It’s like, “This is what’s happening in the world, this is how I feel, this is what I want to share.”
Kenya Kinski Jones: Absolutely! It’s true and I think that also speaks to, I think a lot of people have been saying this, but in quarantine I feel like people have had the quiet and slow down of just… And the world is in so much pain right now, of just recognizing what really matters and I think social media has followed that too.
ES: Yeah, I’m interested to see how will it go beyond social media, when industries reopen, if fashion will change, if tech will change…
Kenya Kinski Jones: I’m sure it will, I feel like everything follows, but I don’t know, there’s also a lot of chaos right now so who knows where everything is going to settle, but I think on social media, it is hopeful and there’s that sense of community for sure, more so than before.
ES: Have you used your Instagram as an activist for a really long time? I know you work with I Am A Voter, which is so cool because I love Mandana, and your animal rights activism and working with Stella McCartney. Where did your passion for animal rights start from?
Kenya Kinski Jones: Well, I’ve been a vegetarian since I was young, I grew up with horses, so that was kind of embedded in my childhood and my lifestyle growing up and something that I just innately gravitated towards as it’s something I truly cared about. I’ve been lucky enough to come into contact with people who I can learn from and soak up their information from and who have common concerns and interests. Stella being one of them, I Am A Voter and RDC. I think that in regards to activism, I feel like the first step to take is just educating yourself and knowing all that you can about what it is that you care about because when you know about the issue, then you care and you want change and that’s what inspires action. I’ve just been trying to learn as much as I can on the subjects that are calling to me.
ES: It comes across very genuine, everything you’ve posted because it’s definitely true to who you are and true to your heart and true to what you believe in and I feel like that’s also really important because a lot of times, even though there has been so much positive on social media, it’s also been a little bit performative, and like, “Oh, I’m trying to keep up with these things.”
Kenya Kinski Jones: For sure, but even in regards to that, I feel like, I don’t know, people have just been more honest about that and even able to call themselves out on that, and I think that’s really important to create an environment of being able to make mistakes and creating an environment where people can grow and learn.
ES: Yeah, it’s definitely a time of reflection and education.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Yeah, definitely, those are the perfect two words.
ES: Why did you start working with I Am A Voter? I know it’s something you’re really passionate about.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Just to do anything with them has been really great and I think now more than ever as we’re approaching the most important election of our lifetime, it’s been really great to work with them and also just learn from them. They provide incredible resources and information to empower the modern voter and I think now we all have the responsibility and accountability to have a say in the future, in the narrative of the future of America. It’s been really great, just even observing what they’re doing.
ES: This year is the first time I’ll ever be able to vote, because I’m turning 18 later this month.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Wow, that’s exciting.
ES: It’s exciting, but I’m also like, “Oh, my generation really has to pull through, new 18 year olds really have to vote” and so I’m trying to figure out the best way to do that. I’m excited to vote in this election because I feel like it’s like what you said, very monumental.
Kenya Kinski Jones: I was going to say, I feel like your generation is really leading the importance of voting. Do you feel that as a person your age?
ES: I do feel that, and also I feel like everyone else is sort of putting it on us too, so it feels like there’s no option, which is a good thing. I’ve always been passionate about voting and making sure that not only my generation is like, “Okay, we have to vote” but other generations are like, “You really have to vote.”
Kenya Kinski Jones: Yeah, exactly.
ES: I know, I hope we pull through, I think we will, because I feel like everyone’s in a state of anger right now and voting is such a fundamental way to make change. Mandana [Dayani] said, “If you really want to make change in what you see, voting is the biggest way to have your voice heard.” So I’m excited about it.
Kenya Kinski Jones: I love it, I love you’re doing that, that’s great, you should be very proud.
ES: I know, and my friends who are too young to be poll workers, I know in LA, they’re driving older people to the polls and being a partner for them because they just need help filling out the forms and getting there.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Incredible.
ES: I feel like people are really trying to do their best.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Do their part, even if they’re not of age, that’s really great to hear.
ES: Also… Congrats in your Chanel campaign! I saw it on your Instagram and I was like, “Look!”
Kenya Kinski Jones: Thank you so much, thank you.
ES: It’s such a cool and iconic brand.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Thank you, yes, I mean, it’s been just like building a relationship with them over the years and their incredible team, it has been a dream come true for me. It’s a brand that I’ve always had such a deep respect and admiration for and I feel like one of the many things that makes Chanel so special is that they never fail to excite and surprise the world while staying loyal to their history and their classic identity.
ES: That’s very true.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Right? So I think that that’s incredibly special and the artistry and strength of the brand, that’s something that personally makes me feel emotional, it’s such an experience, so it’s been an honor to be able to participate and observe anything that they’re doing so closely and I feel very grateful to everyone involved in making it such a special experience.
ES: Did you always know you wanted to be in fashion or did you not? I ask this as a person who’s going to college soon, and like, “Does everyone know?”
Kenya Kinski Jones: Not necessarily, I went to college at LMU for writing, I love to write. I’m going to be honest, I was not fully immersed in the college culture, but one thing that I really loved about it was the smaller classes. They’re not so massive, so it feels intimate and I like being able to be a part of conversation in class. For me, that was important to me, I did like that.
ES: That’s good to know. I am so not interested in this sorority or fraternity thing, I just want to go and learn things. I don’t care about football games, I’m just trying to learn about all these schools, but anyway you didn’t always know you wanted to be in fashion, you went to LMU for writing…
Kenya Kinski Jones: Yeah, but then I was signed with an agency while I was in college, so I did jobs when I could, but while I was in school I prioritized school and then once I got out, it became a more prominent part of my life and my job. Just kind of, I don’t know, slowly but surely became a focus for me.
ES: Are you sad to be quarantining in New York and not LA?
Kenya Kinski Jones: No, not particularly. I’m going back to LA soon, I do miss my family a lot.
ES: Is it hard to be away from them?
Kenya Kinski Jones: Yeah, that’s been the one thing. I’m not attached to anything else over there, but I do miss my family a lot, so I’m looking forward to reuniting with them in a couple of weeks.
ES: Are you super close with your family?
Kenya Kinski Jones: Yes, I am.
ES: I’m the same way, I’ll blow off anything for my family. I can imagine it’s been really hard for people who have been completely isolated and haven’t been with their families.
Kenya Kinski Jones: It is really hard.
ES: Are you with friends now?
Kenya Kinski Jones: I’m with my boyfriend, Will [Peltz], actually.
ES: That’s so cute, that’s like a rom-com. It’s like, “Oh, I got quarantined with my boyfriend.”
Kenya Kinski Jones: I love it! what’s your favorite rom-com? Because I love rom-coms.
ES: Okay, Notting Hill, the all time favorite. What’s your favorite?
Kenya Kinski Jones: I don’t know, I love The Holiday, have you seen The Holiday with Cameron Diaz?
ES: With Cameron Diaz? I love Nancy Meyers.
Kenya Kinski Jones: I love Nancy Meyers! I’m obsessed with her!
ES: She’s so iconic, when I saw The Parent Trap 20 year anniversary, I was like, “Yes, give it to me.”
Kenya Kinski Jones: It’s so good, I watched that a few times in quarantine.
ES: Wait, are you like, is rom-coms your thing?
Kenya Kinski Jones: Well, I like everything, I can watch anything.
ES: What’s your number one? Like could watch forever number one fave.
Kenya Kinski Jones: I love Sophia Coppola.
ES: No way you just said that, because that’s what I was going to say. I wrote my whole… I took film studies as my English classes here and I wrote my whole final paper on how much I love her. Now I feel connected to you spiritually because you’re a fan of Sophia Coppola.
Kenya Kinski Jones: I love it, do you have a favorite? I feel like it’s really hard to pick a favorite.
ES: My favorite, which is a little bit controversial, but my favorite is The Virgin Suicides, like her first thing.
Kenya Kinski Jones: I was going to say the same thing, I agree.
ES: Have you ever met her before?
Kenya Kinski Jones: I have, yeah, I have met her, actually at the Chanel show in December with my sister.
ES: Did you fan girl? She’s like the one person I would really fan girl over because I would have so many questions for her. I feel like she’d be someone who would give really good life advice.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Everything advice!
ES: Who do you go to for your life advice?
Kenya Kinski Jones: I’d say my sisters, I have six sisters.
ES: That’s crazy.
Kenya Kinski Jones: I know, it is crazy, but I feel like definitely my sisters I’d go to for life advice.
ES: Yeah, I have a little sister, so I don’t necessarily go to her for advice.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Yeah, you’re going to be giving the advice.
ES: I can’t believe you have six sisters. Did you steal clothes when you were younger? Because that’s the biggest fight I have with my sister now, is stealing clothes.
Kenya Kinski Jones: Oh my gosh! I didn’t necessarily steal clothes, but this is actually really funny. I think it is because of The Parent Trap and the twin aspect, I would want my 17 year old sister to be twins with me and she would get so annoyed when I wanted us to wear the exact same outfit and she was like, “No one cares.”
ES: That’s so cute.
Kenya Kinski Jones: She was not having it.
ES: How old were you?
Kenya Kinski Jones: I was much smaller, but I wanted to be twins.
ES: That’s even cuter, though. I go to my dad for advice, I’m like, “You’re 60, you’ve been through it.”
Kenya Kinski Jones: Dad advice!
ES: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from your dad?
Kenya Kinski Jones: Oh my gosh, so much advice, more than I could ever put into words, but I’ll say a saying that my grandpa used to say to my dad and my dad said to us, which is, “Once a task has just begun, never leave it ’til it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”
ES: That’s good advice.
Kenya Kinski Jones: When I have a moment of weakness, I think about that and just seeing things through, whatever it may be it, as big or as small as it may be, but I don’t think I could ever put into words the knowledge that he’s passed on to me, but definitely means the world to me to have his input in anything.
ES: Are you close with all six of your sisters?
Kenya Kinski Jones: Yeah, we’re definitely a close family. We may not necessarily all get together in person all the time, but we stay in close contact and good contact.
ES: That’s important, and also it’s so hard, especially being a model and being in fashion, you probably travel all the time, but that’s also something I love about technology, it’s like FaceTime has changed everything.
Kenya Kinski Jones: For sure, me and my sister Kidada FaceTime all the time. It’s really nice, especially during quarantine.
ES: My sister FaceTimes me from her room next to mine. I’m like, “Okay, we’re overusing it.”
Kenya Kinski Jones: You’re like, “Just come over here.”
ES: Yeah, but definitely, even as much as I used to don’t like Zoom School, at least it’s not like I’m in my room completely alone. Having a friend on FaceTime to study with, it really is crazy how technology has changed how we communicate.
Kenya Kinski Jones: I know, and even more so just throughout the pandemic as well has played an even more important role, which I couldn’t even imagine before, that it would become more important, but it has.
ES: It was so nice to meet you, you’re like the sweetest person I’ve ever met and like so pure.
Kenya Kinski Jones: You’re so sweet, I’m so excited we got to connect, Justin’s been telling me about you for such a long time.
ES: Oh my God, everyone says that, I’m like, “Justin, stop.” Like, “Don’t stop, but stop.”