If only a single word could define a person, the one to describe Sweden-born Victoria’s Secret Pink model Elsa Hosk would be “passionate.” From her work to her charity, she devotes herself with true passion. With her big blue eyes, natural long blonde hair, and lithe, almost fragile figure you’d be hard-pressed to guess her other great passion: basketball.
On her first day after moving to New York City, Elsa went for a run and came across a basketball court on the East Side. Finding some free court space, she decided to shoot some hoops. Eventually the usual court occupants showed up and claimed their spot, telling “the little girl” to move it. She backed off the court, mesmerized by the “real Americans,” and quietly watched them from the sidelines. They didn’t have pickup games like this in Sweden.
This was New York City street ballers living up to the hype. If it were in black and white, it would have been a Nike com- mercial. Maybe they were bored, or just couldn’t shake those blue eyes staring upon them, but the regulars beckoned her to the court to see what skills the little girl had. In a scene straight out of White Men Can’t Jump, Elsa blew their minds: She was better than all of them. After that, she would show up every Sunday and watch them fight over the privilege to have her on their team.
How did your adventure with basketball begin?
My dad put a basketball hoop in our yard, and that’s how it all started. I signed up for a team at school when I was 5 years old and practiced every day. I always had this drive to be the best at what I do, so after a while I got pretty good. At some point I would make 100 out of 100 baskets! My school trainer moved me to an all-star group, and I started intense training. I played on a
professional level until I was 17. Combined with school and modeling, it was a lot of work – but I loved it.
How did the modeling fit into this?
I had no idea about it, but my dad sent my pictures to two different modeling agencies. I was always a tomboy and never saw myself as a model. I even had everyone call me Hampus, which is a male name, instead of Elsa. It turned out, though, that the modeling agencies thought I was feminine enough and I did my first photoshoot when I was 13 years old.
13 years old is pretty young. How did you handle it?
My parents were very supportive and helped me with everything. My first big job was a month long gig in Tokyo, and my mom came along. It was challenging getting up at 6:00 a.m. and working every day, but it was worth it. I got to meet tons of interesting people and learned a lot. The only drawback was returning home to Sweden. In just a month I’d changed and felt different from other kids my age. Add a bit of jealousy to it and as a result I was pushed aside and became a loner for some time.
Sounds like you grew up fast.
Yes, and it wasn’t easy. I missed out on so many things. While my friends were partying and kissing boys, I was working. After a few years of modeling in Sweden, I started doing shows in Paris. A New York agency got interested in me and wanted me to come over, but I was still playing basketball. The training was hardcore and took a lot of my time. Compromising those two things became impossible, and I had to make an important decision. I gave up basketball. Modeling was a whole new and exciting world for me, and I didn’t want to lose that opportunity.
Do you ever wish you’d chosen differently?
Sometimes I do look back, and wonder: what if? In the end though, I’m really happy with the choices I made because they got me to where I am now. I’m so grateful for my journey through life. I did have moments in my life when I felt really lost, but they only made me stronger. You can’t really control anything in your life. You have to let it come to you. That’s how I find my balance – I try not to dwell in the past, or think too much about the future.
Is that what balance means to you?
Yes. Also when my feet are steady on the ground, my heart is open and I’m a loving, accepting person. When I have no judgment and I’m learn- ing from everybody that surrounds me, that’s what balance is to me. I’m happiest when I con- centrate on other people, when I’m not focusing on myself.
You have been a face of Victoria’s Secret Pink for a while now. Did it change your life in any way?
Totally. Being part of the Victoria’s Secret family added stability to my modeling career. For over a year now, I have been touring around the States, opening new stores, and meeting amazing people. They gave me a chance to express my personality and become their spokesperson. That opened doors for many new possibilities, and it allowed me to use my name in my charity work.
What charity projects are you involved with?
It is a whole new world for me to be involved with charity, and it just feels amazing to be able to help. You could say I was looking for a charity to support for some time, but I didn’t have that fire inside of me for any particular cause.
That changed after I saw Not My Life – a documentary about human trafficking. It made the suffering of these girls so real for me. I can’t imagine anything worse happening to a human being than being sold by someone you trust, and being locked away to suffer abuse over and over again. I remember crying throughout the entire movie, and it really changed my perspective on life. At that point, I knew I would do anything I could help.
How did you go about getting involved?
With the help of my agent, I started looking for charities that focus on the problem of human trafficking. She shared my passion and got in touch with an organization called Fair Girls. They are amazing, dedicated to the cause, and very hands-on. They look for suspicious ads and websites that could involve human trafficking and bust the pimps and rescue the girls. The founder, Andrea Powell, even lets them sleep in her own apartment. From the first time I was with the organization, I was inspired, and knew I had to be a part of their important work.
What kind of involvement have you had with them?
I’m planning to do that in the near future. I attended an event called “Jewel Girls,” where the trafficking survivors make jewelry to raise money for school. I was honored to meet some of these beautiful, strong women, and it changed my life forever.
One girl showed me a scar going all the way across her belly. Her pimp found out she was pregnant, cut her stomach open and took out the baby. Another rescued girl told me she was recently fired from her job, simply because her boss found out she was a victim of human trafficking. Our society is ignorant to the problem and these girls aren’t getting very much aid. Human traf- ficking is not just an issue of third world countries, it’s happening right here in the U.S., maybe even on your street. We have to acknowledge that it could be any of us, that you or I could be ‘that’ girl. In the near future I’m planning to go on
one of the busts and really get the full picture of what’s going on.
You are really passionate about this.
I always felt like being a model, making money off my looks, was so small. Now I can use this to bring awareness to other people. That gives my life a purpose, a whole different meaning. I have lots of ideas on how to make it work. Next step is to design a piece of jewelry together for an auction.
What other projects are you working on?
For the past two years I have worked with Guy Aroch on a very special photography project. It recently showed at Milk Gallery in NYC. Guy is the most amazing photographer I’ve ever worked with and I love his images. I also designed a bag for Lancaster Paris. The bag is called Elsa loves Lancaster, and you can see it on Lancaster’s website.
Is the Lancaster bag a one-time romance with design, or something that you will do more often?
I’ve always been interested in design, especially interior and furniture design. I just got my own apartment and I’m renovating it from scratch. It’s taking a lot of time, but it’s so much fun. I have a lot of dreams, big dreams. One of them is to become a furniture designer.
Is this where you see yourself in 10 years?
For the most part, I try to live in the moment and not to think too far ahead, but I think that everyone should dream big! One of them is to study at Parsons, travel around the world, or maybe dedicate myself to full-time charity work. I definitely don’t want to stop learning things, traveling, and being inspired by various places and people. I realize I’m only 23 years old and my life has just begun. While I’m grateful for what I have accomplished so far, I always have my heart open for the new possibilities that it may bring. Keeping an open heart, free of judgment, ready to love and accept – that is how I am approaching the future.
The GROUND Issue #03