Style Biz: Building a Successful Modeling Agency

Ethnicity Model Management CEO LaShawnna Stanley has been providing the hottest in minority model talent for companies, including MTV and BET, for more than a decade, striving to showcase a diverse view of beauty.

The 40-year-old industry vet took what she learned — and earned– in corporate America to start her own clothing store and eventually, the agency, a company whose image was once linked with that of raunchy music videos and scandalous vixens. Through the years, Stanley has transcended such a stereotypes, expanding her client list to include Chevrolet, Burger King, KFC, and international fashion houses. talked with Stanley about why she stuck with her niche, how she continues to advocate integrity in the industry, and how the Web has helped her continue growing her business.

Why did you start Ethnicity Models and what niche were you tapping into when you first started?

I wanted to model when I was younger, and there wasn’t a market for ethnic girls unless you were 5’9 or size 2.

I would have models in the store [in Miami] and I liked the way the girls looked wearing the clothes from my boutique–the curvy women. I would have fashion shows to promote the clothing in the store. And from there, Ethnicity Models came about.

There really was no market for ethnic women back then. I started at the same time when hip hop was becoming mainstream, and they wanted models to reflect the urban market.

Your agency is often attached with the negative image of the ‘video girl.’ How have you been able to surpass the stereotype and keep your business expanding for so long?

In the beginning, you didn’t see us in commercials and print ads. They let us in in the video market. Did we make some mistakes and do shoots that were raunchy? Yes we did. But we learned from our mistakes.

Those mistakes helped me learn to babysit my brand to ensure that it didn’t turn in the wrong direction. I decided to be selective and not do raunchy shoots. I’d ask for the lyrics or for information about what the video would entail. I’d also ask about the styling of the models.

Now, we’ve done fashion shows internationally, and we’ve had clients contract models for films, commercials, and marketing campaigns. Keeping it classy, not raunchy, left the door open to do other things. In really taking a stance and not compromising what I felt was right, even though I was trying to grow a business– that got noticed.

You’ve grown your business, venturing into Web with Ethnicity Talent, which includes social networking for models and other industry professionals. What led you to do that?

Now that everything is on the Net and easily gets viral, you can use that to maximize your exposure. Everything is viral and mobile. You can start almost any type of business from home with very little overhead cost in this business.

This is a way for models and other professionals to gain exposure and have access to our talent.

What should an entrepreneur know or have before starting a model management company?

  • Protect your brand and have integrity. Integrity is No. 1. That will take you a long way, Stanley says. “There’s a fine line between people not wanting to deal with you, and people respecting you. Be likable but firm,” she adds.
  • You have to have people skills. Ninety-nine percent of business in this industry is referrals, she says.

  • Get informed and do your research. Get online and figure out who’s who and what’s in demand.
  • Be aware of what type of clientele you want to attract. Get a nice selection of models with tasteful images. Once you get the models and build a Website, reach out, and develop a network.
  • Become the best at what you do so that people will want to come back. I was confident about my product. I’d say, ‘I have the best models, so you have to call me back.’