'My agency puts a great deal of effort into championing a diverse group of models'
Interview with Ro Hewitt
Ro Hewitt is a Model Agent for SUPA, a London based model agency for male and non-binary models. Ro and I went to London College of Fashion (LFC) together, where we both studied Fashion Management. We became firm friends after Ro saw me pull a family-sized carton of orange juice out of my bag at a bus stop one morning (I was very hungover) on our way to a lecture and we’ve been pretty inseparable since.
U: Hi Ro! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, your job and your life before furlough?
Ro at the Tim Walker, Wonderful Things Exhibition
at the V&A, with a model they booked for the shoot in
the photo behind them.
R: Hi! I’m Ro, I’m 26 and live in South London. I’ve been here for about 8 years since I started university, where I met you, my good friend Ursie.
I work as an agent for a model agency called SUPA, and I oversee the Development board. We represent male and non-binary models who work in the menswear industry. We work with photographers, stylists, casting directors, and a massive variety of fashion brands providing them models for shoots, catwalk shows and other projects.
On the Development board, we scout new models, help them to develop their portfolios when they are starting out in the industry and are generally their first port of call for any issues. As agents, we plan a model's career, decide which jobs need to be taken up and turned down in order to maintain the right image for the model, and negotiate rates for each job based on what the clients want to use the images for.
Reduced travel and shipment has meant it’s been really tricky for brands to get stock and shoot during the lockdown, so a lot of fashion businesses have paused some operations until things stabilize. At the moment I’m on furlough, which is a very odd transition for someone who usually works a lot and checks their emails on holiday (to the despair of their colleagues).
The SUPA Office
U: One of the boys you scouted, Jeremiah Berko Fordjour, recently made it into Models.com Top 50 models! Congratulations! Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to scout him and what jobs you've booked him on?
R: Thank you! That was a great furlough surprise seeing Jeremiah on that list. I met him in Stratford Westfield in London a couple of weeks after he had moved to the UK from Italy. He was 14 at the time, so definitely too young to start working in the menswear market, but now he’s a bit older he’s been doing really well. He’s shot quite a few campaigns - the biggest ones are Prada, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Zara. It’s quite surreal to see someone’s career take off that way when you met them at such a young age, but it’s been a lot of fun.
Jeremiah Berko Fordjour
One of the nicest things about SUPA is that the models we represent are generally really hard working and appreciative of their agents' efforts, so when any one of them books an exciting job it’s a real buzz for the whole team. It’s really rewarding to see people you genuinely like and have enjoyed working with doing really well.
U: That sounds so gratifying! What was it that initially attracted you to being a model agent?
R: The degree we studied for had a management focus and most of my friends from there are now buyers and merchandisers, or working in fashion PR. I realised during the course that I didn’t think that was the direction I wanted to go in any more, and I’d enjoyed the cultural studies and consumer psychology elements of our course the most.
I’d always been interested in the modelling industry and wrote my dissertation on how the ethnicity of models in fashion imagery affects consumers’ perceptions of a fashion brand. I wanted to research this topic for my dissertation because the representation in advertising was so skewed towards whiteness and I wanted to see if anybody had been studying the effects of the industry slowly changing to be more inclusive.
Deciding to try to go into the modelling industry was a bit of a gamble for me as I didn’t really know what it would be like and LCF weren’t able to help me much, as the career wasn’t that related to my course, but I decided to give it a shot. I wanted to be involved in publicising imagery of people with all kinds of beauty instead of just the eurocentric ideals, with strict definitions of gender, we see so often.
The team at my agency puts a great deal of effort into championing a diverse group of models in terms of race, religion and gender identity, so I think I was really lucky landing a job at SUPA.
U: That career gamble definitely paid off. You are excellent at what you do. What advice would you give someone looking to become a model booker?
R: This is actually a really tricky one because it’s not a job that you can train to do without being in an agency and learning how it works by seeing it happen. There aren’t books or qualifications that teach you how things work in model management, you really have to learn on the job. I’d say the best way to get in there would be to approach an agency and ask if you can assist them over a fashion week. That’s usually when agencies need extra help and you’ll be able to get a sense of what the working environment is like.
I interned at a couple of agencies whilst I was at uni and then went to assist full time when I’d graduated, and just went from there. We have a couple of great assistants at work who are part time and it’s really just a case of working your way up and figuring out which part of an agency you’re most interested in being involved with because each agent has a different job role. I’d also want people to know that you really don’t need a degree. Going to university was a good option for me as it meant I could move to London and build a support network here but for the job role you definitely don’t need the qualification. Relevant work experience and interests and loads of enthusiasm are more important. There’s lots of work to be done throughout the fashion industry to make certain roles more accessible to a wider pool of people but for this job, a degree really shouldn’t be a barrier. If anybody reading this blog wants any more specific advice or CV help though I’d be very happy to help!
U: And I’d be very happy to recommend you as an excellent all round human. When you were first furloughed, what were your initial thoughts?
R: Haha! Initially, it was a bit of a nightmare for me. The idea of being a furloughed worker with no structure or chaos to occupy my mind was a bit of a worry to start with. I’m used to having an office-hours schedule and being a bit of a workaholic.
I’ve had quite significant mental health issues since I was in primary school and being in a career that is very fast-paced and sometimes chaotic has been really helpful. The biggest challenge for me has OCD. I have a constant barrage of intrusive thoughts running around my brain but being in a busy environment where everyone is working to extremely tight schedules helps a lot. There is almost always music playing, info being shouted across the room and emails coming in every other minute. It gives my brain so much to do all at once that I can suppress a certain amount of the anxiety and intrusions and feel far more functional and useful at work. I’m definitely not suggesting people avoid getting other help and go full workaholic burnout on their careers - it’s not a cure. I also really love my colleagues and the job so it’s a lucky bonus that it’s also been a helpful coping mechanism.
Aside from that my work team is quite small and we're good friends as well so the idea of not seeing them or any of the models for potentially months was very strange!
U: It is true that you never stop working. How have you been structuring your days now then?
R: My flatmates have been working from home through the lockdown. My bedroom is downstairs so I can hear when they are making breakfast in the mornings. That’s my cue to drag myself out of bed and get a coffee. From then on, I am banned from getting back in bed, or even sitting on it until the evening. Otherwise I’ll have things like mid-morning-napping creeping into my routine and it’s all downhill from there for my sleep schedule.
Moving where I am during the day has been useful. If I sit in the chair in my bedroom during the day, then commute to the lounge in the evening, I feel like the day is broken up a bit more.
Other than making sure I don’t end up nocturnal, I’m not forcing myself to stick to a strict regime of any kind. I've been doing little bits of work here and there; helping out a couple of friends with projects, doing some work online, and going and doing food shops for people in my community. Trying to break things up as much as possible to keep my brain busy.
U: How have you been keeping creative?
R: I think the most creative thing I’ve done so far has been sorting out my room. I tend to be the total opposite in my work life to my personal one, where I lack the motivation to do longer projects. Having a load of free time and knowing I’ll be spending most of my time in the house forced me to make my space into somewhere I like being... and I’ve finally unpacked the last couple of things that have been in boxes since I moved into the flat a year ago. I think I need to say, I do realise it is really weird of me to have been living in a semi-unpacked space, especially as someone who likes cosy spaces and works in an industry so focussed on aesthetics. I don’t really have a decent excuse for it, I’m just a real procrastinator within my own space.
My flatmates and I have been taking turns to make rounds of cocktails, bringing creativity to our greatly increased alcohol tolerance. So far we’ve had Piña Coladas, Margaritas (twice because you can fit lots of alcohol in there), Pimms, Sangria, and Bloody Marys. We’ve also drunk a lot of red wine. I’ve since given up drinking during the week (three times).
Earlier this year, we created a display of hanging planets and 100 stars to hang from the ceiling in the lounge. We made the planets out of balloons and papier mache and had some balloons leftover, so during lockdown we’ve been inspired to create a sort of two-faced head - as a tribute to my other flatmate and her girlfriend who are quarantined in a different house. Imagine Quirrel and Voldemort, one side with a fringe and the other with longer hair and glasses. That’s my vision. It will be joining the other planets in the living room… unless it’s too creepy in which case I will post it to them to deal with.
I’ve also started drawing again for the first time in a couple of years as well, which has been quite therapeutic.
We’ve also been talking about starting “OnlyVans”. A subscription service money-making scheme, involving pictures of ‘vans I have spotted from my window’... although that’s not actually been created yet.
U: Please sign me up for OnlyVans immediately. And post me a cocktail. How important do you think creativity has been to your overall wellbeing during this time?
R: Sorting my room out has been super important. My mood is really affected by my surroundings and having a calm space that feels how I want it to has been such a relief. I feel much better having done that, even though a lot of it didn’t require much work and was just a case of me chronically procrastinating. I think also drawing again has been really nice as I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. It’s been rewarding seeing that I can still draw after quite a long break.
U: Have you learnt any new skills during this time?
R: I’ve perfected the Margarita salt rim.
I’ve also learned how to make honeycomb (it’s vegan, which is very exciting because we vegans don’t get many treats that are cheap and easy to make).
I’ve also learned that you shouldn’t make it in a tin with tall sides because it collapses in on itself and becomes far too dense. Another learning was that once you’ve broken it into pieces, the pieces stick together inside whatever you’re storing them in. I used a tall glass jar which resulted in a hard sugary mess gathering at the bottom that eventually had to be melted by creating a bain-marie in my sink to remove. Dramatic. I learned that it was a lot more effort than enjoyment. I’ll report back when I’ve done a batch in a tin with shorter sides - I might end up learning that’s also difficult.
I’ve also started cycling around the emptier streets of South London, having not really done any exercise in about 7 years so my leg muscles have been learning some new skills and punishing me for neglecting them!
U: Excellent work. I’ll pass on the honeycomb for now but can’t wait to try your margaritas in a post-quaz world. Let us dream for a minute, and ponder, if you had just one day out of lockdown and back to your normal life tomorrow, what would that day look like?
R: Oh easy. Picnic in a park with friends, binge trash TV with you and eat about ten vegan sausage rolls from Greggs. And then pints and vegan cheese toasties with my pals from work at The Dundee in Bethnal Green, at the big table in the bit with the roof outside. You can come to that too if you like?
I’d like to bring my family down from Norwich as well for the day, I’ve not seen them since January. Maybe we could have dinner with them before the pub? You probably want to do your own stuff but unfortunately this is my day so you have to keep me happy.
U: I’m in. God I want one of those cheese toasties now. And a pint. But a pint of wine. Any tips on creating a sense of normality during furlough?
R: The current situation is so different to most people’s daily lives that I think it’s been more useful for me to try to adapt the way I live to fit around lockdown than to try and make it more like my normal life. It has been a challenge as I’ve been so reliant on seeing people, structure and work in the past but I count myself super lucky to have my workplace using the furlough scheme and being in a job where I can work from home when things start to go back to normal, instead of being in a position where I’d have to go back to an unsafe working environment.
Although it’s been a horrible period and many people, myself included, have lost friends and family, if anything this time has made me appreciate the stability that I do have in my life, and my lovely friends and flatmates. I don’t really want to try and replicate normal life or pretend this is like a holiday and forget to acknowledge how privileged I am compared to many people who are isolating alone or have lost income.
So I think maybe my tip is if you’re in a similar position to me don’t make it seem so normal that you forget there are other people who might need your help. I think I was doing that initially and I’m trying to keep a better balance now.
In terms of little things that are keeping me sane, I know everyone says this, but I do think getting up
and dressed every day has helped me feel less lost at sea.
I catch up on the news once every few days at the moment unless something big has happened. Just before we were all advised to work from home I spent almost an entire weekend reading about infection rates and vulnerable groups and getting into a real black hole of it, so I’m limiting myself now.
Also, oddly now and again I put on a full face of makeup. I’m wearing one for this interview even though you can’t see it, but I feel much more accomplished with it on and I’ll send you a photo later. You’re welcome in advance.
Ro at the Tim Walker, Wonderful Things Exhibition
at the V&A, with a model they booked for the shoot
in the photo next to them.
U: I look forward to this photo very much, I’m sure you look delightful. Well my dear, thank you so much for indulging me in your current antics and talking to me about your career. I look forward to a time when I can eat Greggs sausage rolls by your side. Margaritas in hand.
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