In 2017 fate brought together two models and social activists with a shared dream- disrupting the modeling industry and bringing in some fresh, positive change. It all started when a familiar friend, fashion pioneer Marci Zaroff, who understood their passion provided the initial link via email, and with only one phone call, Val and Anne knew that their dream to create an ethical modeling agency had to become a reality.
Anne Therese – a Swedish-born model – resided in New York City while pursuing her master’s in branding and Integrated communication at the city college of New York, when the idea of the agency was born. With the establishment of their business, Anne Therese decided to put her studies on hold to focus entirely on creating what she believed could be a groundbreaking idea. Anne Therese had started modeling but realized that most of the agencies were not keen on empowering models and knew right away that she had to be the change herself. Meeting with like-minded models to discuss fashions hot topics with her Model Mafia crew (founded by Cameron Russell and Aine Rose Campbell), she understood that there were other models out there with similar interests, and gained further proof that an ethical agency was a well-needed change.
On the other hand, Val was based in Malibu, modeling, and traveling the world along with being a new mom. She also had to put her career on hold to finish her degree in Art History and move away from the entertainment industry, since the modeling world usually has a shelf life of around 25 years. Her pathway to using her influence took off when she was featured on billboards across America in the Let’s Recycle Right campaign alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Kristen Bell. She is currently the CEO and Co-founder of Role Models Management alongside Anne Therese.
Role Models Management was founded in 2017 with the belief that if real change was going to happen, then it needed to happen from within, starting with model agencies, and the way they operate. The agency looks into inspiring positive change across the industry by creating a platform where models can work with brands they love while speaking up about topics like environmental and social justice on their social media platforms. The agency also doesn’t have the usual height and weight requirements and prides on representing a diverse roster across body types, ethnicity, age, and sizes. To be Role Models means choosing to be a positive influence in the world and identifies as someone who wishes to inspire others through their work, activism, social media, and other platforms.
The company boasts of having more than 200+ models worldwide and counting, including professional athletes and celebrities. Part of the agency network portfolio includes clients like Timberland, Nike, Elle USA, and The UN, many of which were attracted due to how different Role Models business model was crafted.
The two former models launched their agency right as the #MeToo movement took the world by storm and has been way ahead of the game in terms of wage transparency with their clients, sustainability with the brands they partner with, and empowerment of models through education and partnerships with activist groups. With influencers being recognized for their voices and passions in the age of activism as a form of protest, what is now becoming a trend is the foundation of their business model!
The Role Models Advantage
It’s pretty clear why brands come to Role Models. If you want to partner with models that not only look the part but also have an audience who cares about what happens in the factory as much as how gorgeous the clothes fit then an influencer with a platform curated for activism, then look no further than their Brand Ambassadors board which boast influencers like body-positive activist Arielle Estoria and Health and Wellness influencer Kenzie Burke.
Role Models also acts as a production company which has come in handy during COVID as the entertainment industry shut down completely, leaving many models and actors out of work. Role Models also has an ethical production stamp for their productions and has a COVID protocol officer, ahead of the curve until we go back to life as usual.
The Company Strategy Approach
To disrupt the market, the agency found the need to address the way agencies work from the inside out.
- Empower models and have them empower their followers.
- Position models as brands themselves, rather than hangers. It’s a holistic approach rather than just a physical one (which has incredible value in the day and age of influencers) – even smaller models need to be doing this!
- Transparent communication- There were many incidences of abuse of models by agencies. From taking months, sometimes years to get paid, having little to no choice about clients and jobs, and even verbal abuse from agents. Role Models approach their models with compassion and a different eye since Anne and Val have been in a model’s shoes before.
The Social Impact
Since the agency’s inception, they have always had a give-back model. Whether it’s encouraging their model’s fans and followers to register and vote (their models registered thousands of people for the 2020 election), offsetting their models travel with Carbon offset credits, or partnering with the UN for the UN75.
As more Millenials and Gen Z’ers care about how a product is made, rather than just how it looks, doing campaigns with real Role Models has encouraged more brands to partner with activists, like Nature Needs heroes campaign Role Models did with Timberland.
In a former interview, Role Model Natalie Biehl spoke about the agency: “Role Models support companies that are purpose-driven, like those that use organic materials or follow fair-trade practices. On top of that, they encourage models to participate in various environmental and social campaigns. The agency reaches out to us about jobs but also about what campaigns we can support and how to effectively share them on social media and in person. Basically, they’re a facilitator of meaningful connections and an agency advocating for positive change within the fashion industry.”
You can check out all of their collaborations here.