Amplifying underrepresented voices

Beauty Diversified

Lorde Inc, the modeling agency paving sustainable space for models of colour in fashion.

Interview By Rhona Ezuma


In 2014 Lorde Inc bravely stepped out into a sea of modeling agencies who were predominantly representing white models- as the first modeling agency to solely represent people of colour. To the accepting eye it may be passable to says that Lorde Inc’s USP is only that it represents models of colour, but in actual fact this undervalues the entirety of what Lorde represents. Challenging cultural standards, Lorde are also consciously deciding to sign models with features that differ from Eurocentric preference in beauty: short models, wider features, acne, very dark skin or gender transgressive looks, appear freely in the Lorde Inc book and they all, in their own ways, look beautiful.

If you go on the Lorde Inc Instagram, their bio reads as ‘a street casting modeling agency’. This is something Lorde Inc founder Nafisa Kaptownwala refers me to when I ask her to define Lorde Inc. Street casting, which is the acquiring of models who don’t typically fit runway standards in size, height, age or appearance, is of course, not new to fashion. Raf Simons, is well known for using street casted models his own line and with the access we now have through social media to a variety of beautiful, photogenic people around the globe, street casting is also easier and more popular than ever. Yet few modeling agencies making waves in fashion have followed this trend.

Speaking with Nafisa Kaptownwala and director of the London agency Chris Whitfield, I’m keen to find out how the agency has found its reception into the fashion world.

In less than just two years (much akin to the accreditations of an American Apparel bag), Lorde has landed in the four major cities – London, New York, LA and Toronto.

It would seem the agency is expanding at a fast rate, and growing this fast has obviously given Nafisa a flavour for the idiosyncrasies of casting tastes in different cities:

“In Toronto, the fashion industry is a lot more low key so people are mostly looking for models for music videos, in New York, at the moment we’re getting a lot of requests for trans girls and in London there’s quite a few requests for people with coloured hair.”

As a Londoner myself, at first I’m surprised to hear that London’s type is so beige, but as I stroke my own purple braid a

few times, it doesn’t take long for Nafisa to convince me she knows exactly what she is talking about.

Lorde Inc’s growth really undercuts the supply and demand jargon mainstream agen-cies have used to explain why there is sometimes such a small bubble of ethnic minor-ity models in their books. Counteracting that gap is something the Lorde Inc agency holds close to it’s heart. With models from a wide spectrum of ethnicities, including faces who are of African, Caribbean, South Asian, East Asian, Oriental, Middle Eastern and Mixed-heritage descent, it is no wonder the agency has been lauded as ‘a celebration of diversity’ by the Guardian, and as the modeling agency that’s ‘changing the game’ by Dazed. However, what I want to know is how the people behind Lorde inter-pret what they are doing. When I ask about what major successes the agency has had so far, Chris tells me:

“The biggest achievement has been fostering the willingness for people to talk about the issue at heart. There’s been a lot of language going on about representation right now and I think that the agency has had a part in that. The people talking about that do it really well and are familiar with the agency and the work that we’ve been doing.”

Lorde Inc has invited through its doors clients like Nike, worked with youth culture publications like i-D and Dazed, and Nafisa has been invited to give a talk at Ivey Nicks school in Upen; you could hardly say its not been a successful two years.

But despite this, I want know about what misconceptions they face as a street casting agency, and an agency who advocates diversity. Their biggest concern seems to be forming long lasting, sustainable relationships with the fashion world, and fighting away stereotypes that could pin point them as ‘niche’.

Nafisa: “Street casting is the direction that things are going right now, but I think one of the reasons people want to street cast, is they think the turnover is so quick. Sometimes once a street cast model has shot once, people don’t want to work with them again.”

Chris: “Engaging with people in a way that it is more than just a moment or like a trend is really important to us. A lot of the time when we have interest from big magazines, they are into the introductory buzz of our models and then when they realise its not an exclusive, they lose interest. So its about getting people to recognise the beauty of our models, completely and always so that its not just like a thing.”

I am also curious to find out about what the agency’s standpoint is on treatment for street casted models. It has been known that the pay isn’t as good when you are cast independently, as when you have an agent.

Nafisa: “There are loads of street casting agencies, but there aren’t as many actual model agencies that represent street cast models. But a part of the motive behind being one for us, is we feel that street cast models are beautiful and they do deserve to be given the same platform as any other model.”

Chris: “You can’t capitalise on someones image that they’ve generated themselves, and treat them like they are not a signed model or they are less valuable.”

My last questions for the guys is one I’m really eager to find out about. I can see I am in a room with individuals who although have achieved a lot with their work, are clearly hungry for more and are fully aware of how high the barriers against them are. Where do they see themselves in five years?

The answer was simple: Expansion and Establishment.

Chris: “Carving a space for our models so they feel that what they are doing is reliable and respected is really important to us. A lot of people think that what we are doing is less professional because our models are not able to be full time. Modeling is a commitment and the industry has to give you a possibility to commit. The industry is still not willing to cast black models consistently and for that to reflect bad on us isn’t really fair. The way to solve that problem is to give them more opportunities to work.”

Nafisa: “When I started the agency I was really overzealous – I wasn’t even thinking about fashion. Now, I want to let people know that I want to stay, and that I want to be a part of fashion.”