In just one session of sitting and flipping through a fashion magazine such as Vogue or Elle, you will notice the enormous overrepresentation of white female models on its pages. While women of colour do make an appearance, white women dominate the fashion world and its media. Likewise, more than any other group, Asian women are left seriously underrepresented. There are some modelling agencies cropping up however, which are now beginning to have an impact on creating diversity in the industry.
TMP Agency is an agency based in London which started in 2007. Founder Marcus Flemmings says, “I basically saw this gap in the market for an agency with Asian models. The ethos since the beginning is to get Asian models into mainstream.” TMP represents about 200 models. While they sign models from many different ethnic backgrounds, they cater specifically to models of South Asian descent.
Even with their efforts, however, it can be difficult to book jobs for Asian models in mainstream jobs. Major fashion events such as the New York Fashion Week have seen a serious lack of diversity for years. In the Fall-Winter 2013 season, white models accounted for 82.7% of those walking the runways. Asian models accounted for only 9.1% that same year. In 2008, with while models representing 87% and Asian models only 5.4%.
TMP most often book smaller jobs for their models such as shoots for bridal shops and magazines, however they do occasionally get their fair share of major campaigns such as Stella Artois, the National Lottery, and one of their former models recently made it into Vogue. They believe that it is not only the job of the photographers or designers to book Asian models, but also the job of the models themselves to be more open about the expectations of the industry.
Shavan Sajid works at TMP booking jobs for models. “A lot of our models that come in do put restrictions on themselves. They say, ‘We don’t want to do shoots that are too revealing, we don’t want to do nudity, we don’t want to do lingerie.’ That’s mainly Asian models so it definitely makes it hard to break into mainstream modelling with these restrictions that they come with.” While models need to be more open, Sajid also agreed that there needs to be more open-mindedness toward different ethnicities in the fashion industry. “I don’t think there’s anything they can do apart from change their mentality.”
Flemmings added, “As an agency, maybe we get loads of jobs sent to us from clients and in 20 jobs one needs Asian models. But we’re kind of hoping that things change. Until clients change their mindset, its very hard to shift- its more of a society thing as well.”
“Its just a shift in mentality both ways,” Flemmings says about clients as well as models being more appeasing to each other’s wants and needs. But the agency is still attempting to increase diversity in the industry as well as make things better and safer for Asian models, as they can face being taken advantage of. Sajid says, “People will look for Asian models, because they know they don’t have much scope in mainstream modelling, and then have them come over and do shoots and not pay them or not have a very good environment in the shoot. They would never target Caucasian models or European models. They do it to Asian models because they target their vulnerability. They know if they ask them to come for a shoot they’ll come because they don’t have much other options.”
While it still seems to be a hard industry to break into for Asian women, it is the hope of TMP that things are beginning to change. Flemmings says, “The past two years or so I’ve seen there’s been more of a change. There’s more Asian models now doing mainstream stuff, like maybe three, which is not great but its a start. We’re kind of hoping that things change.”