Words by Siobhan Ryan
We stop and have a catch up with TopBlackModels CEO Akin to discuss Fashion Industry, racism and the pioneering of Black Model talent.
“When we first started we definitely had a lot of people saying that we couldn’t do that- that to have a page dedicated purely to black models was racist. Yet there are agencies that practically only have white models, its just they don’t call it ‘topwhitemodels,’ they’re here in London, they’re everywhere.”
Siobhan: When you first started ‘Topblackmodels’ what were your aims?
Akin: It was really more of a network for diversity within the modeling industry. It all started off when I was working with a record label, and we were looking to make a music video, and we wanted quite a specific type of black model; we went to the agencies but they [the models] just weren’t there. They had some black models… but not enough diversity, and so we began to do some research. There were so many amazing faces yet no way to discover them. We decided to make a page where you could find such faces, see such models, and find inspiring stories- so you’d see these people and really feel inspired.
S: Did you envision this page becoming as big as it has?
A: No, never! I woke up one morning and thought, ‘we need to start this’, and I set up my computer and wrote the title ‘topblackmodels’. I didn’t even think about the title at all. And what I discovered is if there is a need, and you create a solution for it, you don’t have to push it or market it to people- people were hungry for it.
S: So in that way it was quite an organic process?
A: Very, very much so. We haven’t done much promotion. It grew exponentially, and what I found about the page was that people didn’t need an explanation because they understood the vision. We wanted to break out of this stereotype of what a black model should look like. And I think the fact that people understood was the happiest part for us!
S: How do you feel your page has contributed to the promotion of black models in the industry?
A: There is a lot more that we can do, but I’m happy about where we’ve come to at the moment, because really the page was about creating a network. It was about creating a space that there was a need for. When we first started we definitely had a lot of people saying that we couldn’t do that- that to have a page dedicated purely to black models was racist. Yet there are agencies that practically only have white models, its just they don’t call it ‘topwhitemodels,’ they’re here in London, they’re everywhere.
S: What are the steps you feel can be made to get to the place we need to be in terms of diversity in the fashion industry?
A: I think the right battle is for people of colour to say to designers, if you do not feature people of colour in your campaigns, then you don’t have someone that represents me; which therefore means you do not want my custom, and you’re not interested in my money. You can speak with your money, you can say that it’s fine to do what you want with your business, but if I don’t see someone that represents me because, for example, I’m not blonde and I don’t have blue eyes, then I can assume I’m not the type of customer you want.
S: What are your next steps for this movement?
A: We’re really encouraged by people understanding this without too much explanation. They flow with it. What we’re thinking of doing is creating more diverse ways to build upon our brand. For example, we didn’t intend to build a modeling agency, it started with helping agencies cast the right black models, but now we do see ourselves eventually forming an agency with all these amazing models that just cannot get signed. And they’re not models we’re promoting out of sympathy, they are amazing models. It’s because agencies will turn to these models and say ‘you have an amazing look, your size is right, your height is right…but we have a girl that looks just like you.’ When in reality that girl does not look like her, she’s just also black!
So one step would be to start an agency, and a second would be to partner with other brands and products that perhaps more black people use and reach out to them. There’s so much we want to do: find brands, build upon our vision whilst keeping it classy… Coffee table books, people telling their stories, all around this black model ethos we have going.
S: Any future stars your following in particular?
A: Oh loads! Not all of which are associated with topblackmodels but who are just doing so well. Boys… Gael Carmans, Jonny Brown, Alpha Dia, Broderick Hunter.Girls… We love Maria Borges! Tami Williams, Kai Newman, Mayowa Nicholas, Adwoa Aboah, Aya Jones. So many to choose from!
Follow us on: