A 20-year-old set up a modeling agency to boost diversity – and Vogue, Burberry and Gucci are using its talent
- Rare Select Models was founded in 2017 to help improve
diversity and inclusionin fashion.
- More brands have embraced diverse models in campaigns, helped by social movements.
Romany Francesa was just 20 years old when she set up Rare Select Models while still at university after finding that certain groups were underrepresented in the fashion industry.
Francesca was coming into her own as a photographer and was often asked by casting directors if she knew any models from ethnic minority backgrounds. She realised there was a gap in the market to represent diverse models.
"I noticed that models that were typically picked for campaigns and 'look books' had euro-centric features," Francesca, now 25, tells Insider. "It wasn't seen as cool to have darker skin models or hijab-wearing models in campaigns."
Five years later, models from Rare Select have featured in high fashion campaigns by Vogue Italia, Valentino, Burberry, Gucci, Paul Smith and Stella McCartney.
Francesa has witnessed the fashion industry go through a period of self-correction in recent years by embracing
The British-Nigerian founder says this has been against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement and particularly since the George Floyd protests, which led to racist incidents in the industry being exposed.
Almost one in two runway shows for the Fall 2022 fashion season featured models of color, up from just under 30% in 2017, according to a report from The Fashion Spot, a fashion trend observer and diversity advocate.
However, plus-sized models accounted for just 2.3% of castings, up from 0.43% five years earlier, according to The Fashion Spot. Castings of transgender and non-binary models increased from 0.17% for Fall 2017 to 1.34%.
The Fashion Spot's analysis of 685 magazine covers of 48 major titles found 52.9% models of color on covers in 2021 compared with 32.5% in 2017. It found 47 models over the age of 50 on covers last year, up from 31 in 2017.
The number of transgender and non-binary models on magazine covers also increased, from three in 2017, to 13 in 2021.
The London-based entrepreneur says that before the movement, three years ago, brands were not as willing to feature diverse faces or bodies in their campaigns.
Other areas of the industry have undergone incremental changes to feature previously marginalized groups in visual materials.
"We're seeing more models with darker complexions, wearing hijabs and from the trans community being featured as the industry is trying to correct its wrongs in a way and is learning how to be more diverse and not cut themselves off from certain demographics," Francesca tells Insider.
She praises companies such as Fenty, Paul Smith and Zara for their "stunning" campaigns tha represent people from all backgrounds.
"We have been pushing for our models to get exposure before 'diversity' and 'inclusion' became buzzwords and before it was seen as something companies need to do to not isolate themselves from customers from different demographics," Francesca says.
Giving people from diverse backgrounds a seat at the table helps to improve diversity in the industry even more as they can use their influence and experiences to push for change.
"Having someone of color in a high position, I feel, has helped dramatically," she says.
"British Vogue's cover for its February 2022 issue featured all African models with darker complexions. These publications are a source of influence and direction and often set the tone for others," Francesca says.
"We hope for models at Rare Select to be valued and for it to be the place that organizations come to first to source diverse models. We are constantly scouting for people with disabilities, plus-size and ethnic minority models," she adds.
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