Flick through any fashion magazine or style catalogue and you’ll find the faces staring back at you are inevitably young, attractive and Caucasian. In countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, with rich and diverse multicultural communities, this obvious bias for ‘white people’ is fuelling outrage.
The Fashion Spot publishes a regular ‘Runway Diversity Report‘ in which it collects data from runway shows to report on diversity and cultural inclusion. In 2016 it collected data from over 373 shows across the Spring 2016 runway shows in New York, London, Paris and Milan. They found 77.6 percent of the time models were white. In Autumn 2015, they reported 80 percent of runway models were white, making it clear that when it comes to equality, you won’t find it on the catwalk.
The demand for diversity in all corners of the ‘Western’ world – from makeup, to TV, to media – is heating up, and businesses who are slow to evolve and fail to exercise the right level of inclusivity risk inciting angry mobs and community backlash. Perpetuating the bias towards Caucasian stereotypes in today’s social media-driven world is to commit business suicide.
For 22-year old entrepreneur Juach Cyer founder of model agency Rïn Models, this societal shift towards cultural and ethnic inclusion couldn’t have come at a better time. Juach was born in South Sudan, a landlocked country in East-Central Africa involved in Africa’s longest-running civil war, the First and Second Sudanese Civil War. He was just two years old when he moved to Australia. He spent his early years in Sydney but in 2008 at 16 years old, he moved to Adelaide where he resides to this day.
After recognising the lack of diversity in the fashion industry, Juach and his cousin Rin Dut – saw a gap in the modelling industry.
The concept was simple: supply the demand. If you want what doesn’t exist, create it – and Rïn Models was born.” – Rïn Models website
“The vision of the agency started between me and Rin,” explains Juach. Rin was in the process of developing his own fashion label but diverse models were hard to come by. The modelling agencies in Adelaide just couldn’t supply what he needed. Rin scouted close friends and family members but couldn’t shake the experience. He and Juach explored the idea of starting a model agency further and decided it was feasible. They decided to launch an agency championing diversity and after ours of research, honed in on their unique point of difference: black-skinned models.
“The more we asked ourselves about our point of difference, the more we realised we needed to offer a service that other modelling agencies weren’t providing. Plus we thought, Why would models leave their reputable agency to work with us? So we needed a niche. And that’s why we decided on an all dark-skinned models.”
But not everything would work out according to plan. A year after they began discussions of launching the agency, Rin’s life was tragically taken.
“In 2014 we were planning and mapping it all out. But unfortunately in early 2015 he passed away.” The promising designer’s life was unexpectedly cut short one evening during a night of celebration in the Gold Coast, having been accepted to study a Bachelor of International Business at Bond University as well as commence an internship with a fashion store. Rin wandered knee deep into the ocean and in the darkness, a wave came and pulled him in. He wasn’t a strong swimmer and he consequently drowned. Juach learned of the devastating event the following morning. Two days later Rin’s death was confirmed. He was just 19 year old.
Juach was devastated. “It was really hard. We were related but we were also very close and hung out heaps,” remembers Juach. “We had the same ambitions in life. He was very passionate about fashion and started sewing at the age of eight. I loved business but he was the creative one. We just had complementary skills and it grew from there.” Months later and still grieving from the loss of his cousin and best friend, Juach launched the business and named it Rïn Models, as a mark of respect and to honour his cousin.
It is clear that this forward-thinking entrepreneur is resilient. Despite not knowing anyone in the competitive world of modelling and no experience in the industry, he soldiered on, driven by a fierce sense of purpose to champion the beauty in dark coloured skin and make dark-skinned models a mainstay in fashion and modelling.
Rïn Models has 16 models on its books, but Juach and his team are scouting for more. “The concept is to specialise in dark skin but I know that sometimes that’s open to interpretation. Take for example one of our models Lucinda. Her father is Cambodian and her mother is Vietnamese and Chinese. Cambodians are the darker-skinned Asians so she still fits in with our philosophy.”
Juach may have very little experience in the model agency world, but he has plenty of support. “I met David Brown who is the owner of a top model agency in Milan and he gave me some great feedback and was really supportive of the vision I had. He’s like a mentor. And other agencies have shown their support as well, such as IMG, Chic and Vivienne’s.”
With hopes to take his Australian model agency international, Juach couldn’t have found a better mentor. David Brown launched his successful modelling agency D’Management Group in 2001 after years of working as a top model agent. The D’Management agency represents top models such as Anreja Pejic, the world’s most recognised transgender supermodel and Chanel Iman, and celebrities such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.
There’s still a long way to go yet for Juach to realise his dreams of representing black-skinned models at the international level, but he’s happy with how his business is travelling so far and isn’t afraid of hard work or making errors. “Of course I’ve made mistakes along the way. But as the business has grown, I’ve been able to network and make friends within the industry and it’s a lot easier now. I can reach out to them for advice.”
They say timing is everything in business, and Juach Cyer couldn’t have timed the launch of his black-skinned modelling agency more perfectly. With a growing list of reputable clients and his dark-skinned male and female models increasingly booked for editorials, ad campaigns and fashion shows such as Adelaide’s Slow Fashion Festival, it’s clear we can expect even greater things from Juach and Rïn Models. Best of all, because of their efforts, the road to equality in fashion is that much shorter.