Justin Hopwood worked as one of the top male models for Ralph Lauren from 2010 to 2016. By the time he would part ways with them, his hair was already falling out.
The sturdy South African native first started showing signs of alopecia in 2015 and the worry set in almost immediately for him.
‘Losing your hair is losing your income,’ said the six-foot-two-inch model to GQ.
‘You can be in an office job and they want you to use your brain, and you’re fine. Financially you’re fine. You’re still going to get your paycheck. Your boss isn’t going to be like, “Oh, you have alopecia—you’re out.”
‘And not to say that that’s the case with modeling, but it’s like, I get it. You have to follow a certain image, and that’s the way it is.’
An autoimmune skin disease that causes the body to attack hair follicles, preventing their growth, alopecia affects almost seven million Americans.
And while there is no universal cause of the condition, Hopwood believes anxiety from his environment helped contribute to the outcome.
When he was 21-years-old, Hopwood got his big break when he was selected for the cover of A&F Quarterly for preppy All-American brand, Abercrombie & Fitch.
He was instantly signed by modeling agent, Jason Kanner, who was responsible for getting the South African heartthrob picked up by Ralph Lauren.
The model was shoved all over as brands utilized his All-American ‘manly man’ look to help give their brands classic boost.
‘A lot of small companies just wanted to have that preppy guy, and I was the most preppy-looking guy in the world,’ he said.
And for Hopwood who rocked luxurious blonde chops, the eventual loss of his hair was a lot to take in.
‘For someone selling beauty, it’s like, “We understand he’s a handsome guy, but half his head is missing of hair.” It’s not going to add up,’ he added.
When the now 28-year-old decided to cut his hair, the news made waves in the fashion world.
Hopwood commented on how awkward it was for people to realize that it wasn’t a style choice for the model, but more to do with his health.
‘They realize that it’s shaved for a reason, because once you take it off, it’s really noticeable,’ he said.
‘They’re not expecting it. Automatically they go into an “I’m sorry” situation. Which is fine. It’s not their fault. Just, don’t lift my hat off my head, butthole.’
He even added that a model who he had beefed with reached out on Instagram and offered words of support.
‘He sent me this long message about how proud he is of me, and I hadn’t really even done anything. I was just kind of going about my business,’ he added.
‘He was just very, very, very supportive. It’s been very awesome.’
In a world where plus-size model Ashley Graham and model Winnie Harlow, who has the skin condition vitiligo, are commended for their courage in fighting stigma for their ‘flaws,’ Hopwood hopes he can be accepted by potential employers.
‘I think everyone has really, over the last couple years, really grown into this idea of accepting people for who they are, what they are.
‘There’s a unity in the world right now that I think is very prolific, that wasn’t there a couple years ago.’
And the model doesn’t hold anything against the brands that he now doesn’t quite match the bill for.
‘Do I expect them to all of the sudden throw me in one of their centerfolds looking the way I do? Hey, I wouldn’t say no, I would embrace it, but would I ask them to change the look that they’ve been known for for 40 or 50 years? No.’
But the once full-haired Hopwood hopes that his mane will make a return visit sometime in the future.
In the past two years, he said that he has taken more than 600 hormone injections to the face and head.
He’s cautious of Xanax and is actually stiff towards most medicine, wishing a tablespoon of garlic for most ailments, so the usage of injections disturbs him.
And choosing out of drugs that are usually prescribed for alopecia, he’s started using a hair growth program called Nutrafol and has even seen fine blond hairs start to come in.
But Hopwood tries to stay optimistic, aware that anything is possible with his condition.
He added: ‘I think in the beginning it was very tough for me to face the inevitable reality that this is what it is, and if this doesn’t fix itself I’m going to be in a position where I ultimately have to shave my head or work’s going to stop for me.
‘And you have to understand that for someone in my situation, that’s a very daunting thing.
‘Once you accept it, you can learn from it, grow from it. Now I’ve got alopecia, but it’s no big deal. [The hair] might come back. But if it doesn’t, whatever, no one’s gonna hate me for it, no one’s gonna dislike me for it.’