When New York modeling agency JAG Models refreshed its website in June, the look was similar, but the details were different.
JAG has retained the bold font, vibrant graphics and, of course, the cute winking faces on the homepage that are synonymous with a modeling agency website. However, there are no gender-specific “guidance” (the industry talks about categories or a selection of models) that qualify male or female talent. Now, templates only fall into two categories – “Templates” or “Development”. Alongside a model’s measurements and sizes are their pronouns, exact shade of foundation, and an area called “Hair Notes” that specifies their curl pattern, whether heat can be applied, and a preference for braids or braids. natural hair. Beneath these stats, which have been implemented to ensure that each model they represent is comfortable working on all photo shoot sets, is a bio on interests, personal projects and endeavors. philanthropy of the model.
“We had a lot of darker-skinned models that were on set and the makeup artist wouldn’t have their shade,” says JAG co-founder Jaclyn Sarka. “Or we get requests from models to put braids in their hair, which can take six hours and they pay out of pocket. Clients have to pay them for time and service, and we have to make sure our models feel safe and seen.
Over the past decade, beauty standards have been increasingly challenged in the fashion industry. This includes the modeling world, which has long been synonymous with promoting a narrow beauty ideal. JAG, founded in 2013, was built on the idea of dismantling this ideal, initially representing many of the best-known plus-size models and striving to receive equal daily rates with their “straight-size” counterparts. More recently, they have extended their inclusive approach to gender identity.
“She’s the person for us,” says JAG co-founder Gary Dakin, who has worked as a modeling agent since the late 1990s. “It has nothing to do with gender or height. , it’s this magical thing that inspires us, and each person we represent inspires us in a different way.”
JAG is not alone: the modeling industry as a whole is starting to adopt a similar mindset, looking beyond the standard body type or background and instead finding new talent on social networks. The agencies are also looking to further prioritize welfare and pay equity models once signed.
Brands, in turn, are also changing their marketing approach. Today, casting directors can ask about a model’s activism or musical talent before her measurements. Sarka says they are actively working with clients to change the narrative of how brands approach castings and make the process less about ticking the boxes of a creative brief and more about having an open mind to a wide range of talents.
How agencies evolve
Dakin and Sarka met as agents at Ford Models in New York in the early 2000s, where they ran the Curve division (how plus size was referred to at the time) and bonded over their endeavors. collectives to get plus size models the same daily rates as straight size models – a US size 4 or less with a height of 5′9″ or more.
After Ford Models was sold in 2007, the new owner eventually disbanded the Curve division and Dakin and Sarka saw a clear opportunity to build an entire agency around models that didn’t fall into the mainstream fashion mold. They currently represent well-known models, personalities and entrepreneurs including Iskra Lawrence, Kamie Crawford and Sabina Karlsson. Their goal is to showcase models that exceed their measurements and ensure positive treatment on set.
“It was important for us to see these models as names, not just as numbers. We wanted these models to be seen as real humans and not codes,” Sarka said, referring to the initials and numbers assigned to a model. “We lacked a humanity.
In recent years, many other agencies have adopted a similar mission, including Next Model Management in New York, Freedom in Los Angeles and Established in London, each taking its own approach. Next, for example, allows the individual model to decide their split — male or female — said Alexis Borges, president of Next Los Angeles. He added that some fluid or gender-neutral models chose to be represented by both boards simultaneously.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to educate the consumer that they can be inspired to buy any model,” Borges said.
The largest and arguably most influential agencies in the industry are also changing their practices. Elite Models, for example, has never delineated its model boards by gender and has taken steps to improve the working conditions of its models. In November 2020, Elite introduced a first insurance plan for its models, who generally work as independent contractors. Today, the agency, which does not sell the insurance policy and makes no profit from it, has more than 550 models under the plan.
JAG’s less rigid approach to height and weight requirements has, in some cases, had a positive impact on its business. Sarka cites one of JAG’s models who had previously worked with several agencies throughout her career who asked her to maintain a certain height and demanded that she style her hair in a specific way.
“Just letting go of the stress of having to be a certain height has allowed her to become more confident in her body,” she said. “Once that happened, not only did the money come in, but prestigious bookings that run the gamut from global campaigns to magazine covers to top fashion shows across the globe.” Her financial compensation, she added, has increased by 500% compared to her work at her previous agency.
“There are countless ways big agencies try to put models in specific boxes,” Sakra said. “But that’s why a big business approach fails, in our view. This assembly line approach is not only sustainable, it… strips away the very traits that make each person who they are.
According to Dakin and Sarka, the first area of the industry where they found success was with lingerie customers where, historically, models had a standard size, shape and look. They specifically cite Lawrence’s 2014 branding deal with Aerie for the Aerie Real campaign as a win for the agency and one of the biggest in the industry at the time for the impact it had. on how brands market to young women.
Beyond the financial success, JAG has also seen their approach pay off when it comes to their relationships with their talent. Lauren Chan, former magazine editor, founder of plus-size clothing brand Henning and model represented by JAG, believes that having her agency support all of her endeavors, from writing to entrepreneurship to activism, is useful for rationalizing one’s work and ensuring that it is in line with one’s values.
“The industry has come a long way in allowing people to be their own managers and get paid across all platforms,” Chan says. “It’s such a dream that some agencies now go out of their way to support talent in all facets of what interests them, especially as someone who wants to make a cultural impact with my work.”
As agencies evolve to meet audience demands, the brands they work with do so in tandem, increasingly seeking a wider range of talent to recruit. “Take a look at Abercrombie, Aerie, Victoria’s Secret,” Dakin said. “Everyone gets a piece of what we fought for.”
While the rise of street casting and social media has given brands other channels to discover more diverse talent, Chan believes agencies can play an important role in creating industry-wide change. industry.
“With street casting, it’s up to the casting directors to seek out these people,” Chan explains. “With an agency, you have a diverse board of models that goes out all day, every day to every client…I attribute a sea change in the industry to agencies that have built a new frontier.”
The sentiment is not lost on Dakin, who is finally starting to sense a major shift in the industry.
“It’s a completely different industry, and the next hurdle to collapse is sex,” Dakin said. “We don’t just sell clothes. There is more to us than that.