Everyone must have heard of the newly minted model Olajumoke, discovered when she walked into fashion photographer TY Bello’s shot with British Nigerian rapper Tinie Tempah. We know now, the story of how her fortuitous appearance went from accident to model search to a cover in one of Nigeria’s most read fashion magazines.
While many celebrated her ‘miraculous’ scouting, others worried what would happen to her. Their fears weren’t unfounded, Olajumoke is a 27 year old former hair dresser who took to the streets, selling bread as a supplementary occupation. She has two small children under five and responsibilities. She is semi-literate.
But what Olajumoke’s story does, is expose how little many of us know about the modelling industry and its processes, here and internationally.
What happened to Olajumoke in the modelling industry is called scouting. And contrary to what the social media furore suggests, internationally, scouting is pretty common. If you read up about many of the international models who have gone on to revolutionize fashion, they were all scouted in the most pedestrian of situations. Gisele Bundchen, the highest paid model in the world was discovered in a fast food restaurant eating a hamburger. Models like Coco Rocha, Jourdan Dunn, Behati Prinsloo, Lily Cole and Cindy Crawford were discovered similarly. They are approached and signed to agencies who then groomed them into the models they are today. Usually the first shoot comes after the agency signs you, but as we have established, this case is a special one.
Olajumoke was scouted, partly because people on the internet thought she was a model. This kind of attention will attract many brands and individuals seeking to tap into the goodwill that Olajumoke currently holds in the eyes of the adoring public. But what happens when the fickle audience finally turns their attention to something or someone else?
Everyone is so enamoured with the ‘divine providence’ angle to Jumoke’s story that they don’t address about how hard it is to succeed as a model. Modelling is simply not easy. Work is erratic, and the demands are vast and unpredictable. This is why the best models are paid up to 1000 dollars for an hour of their time. A great model can bring anything to life, imbue a product with a zest that makes it marketable to anyone.
Does Olajumoke have that ‘it factor’? It’s too soon to tell, but at least she has the right representation to at least help her break into the industry. Few Models helmed by Bolajo Fawehimi has so far shown a great track record for promoting its models’ interests, and that promotion has led to several of its models scoring high profile editorials and campaigns. Due to the peculiarity of her situation (Olajumoke is 5’6, well below the usually model height requirements) they have created a special division for her called ‘Few Stars.’.
But Few Models is only one honest agency in a sea full of opportunists and voyeurs, exploiting the many young men and women who see modelling as a way out of poverty. There are many stories of models being shortchanged, forced into sexually compromising situations, being overworked and underpaid, being asked to demean themselves for the handful of truly lucrative jobs.
The fashion industry itself is one spurred by vanity and narrow definitions of beauty, it makes herculean demands of its designers, stylists and models. Especially the models, many of whom do not even receive credit for their work. We need to push for better protection against exploitation of models and other subsidiary fashion industries.