In this edition of Chit Chat Tuesday, we get to know Laura Johnson and Zoe Proctor, Directors of Zebedee Management, the inclusive UK modelling agency whose phenomenal growth is a testament to the rising demand for the visibility of people with disabilities in the media.
JS: Inclusiveness in the modelling industry is such a hot topic at the moment. How has the conversation about diversity and inclusivity changed over the past decade or so?
L&Z: Fashion and advertising industries have come on leaps and bounds over recent year in terms of ensuring that their advertising and campaigns are representative of our diverse society. It is more commonplace to see plus-size models, different ethnicities and different ages of people in advertising but is still not where it needs to be. Importantly, disability has often been left out of the diversity debate, and we often receive casting calls looking for ‘diversity’, but with no mention of disability. Disability seems to be the last taboo – however, we want to change this. We want it to be the norm that advertising using people with disabilities become commonplace.
JS: When did you establish Zebedee? What was the initial spark?
L&Z: The initial idea was formed whilst we were taking our dogs for a walk together. We were talking about opportunities (or lack of) for the performing arts students that Zoe teaches. And it was just a lightbulb moment of ‘If no one is out there willing to represent people with disabilities, then why don’t we do it?!’. And that was it, straight away we went home and started putting ideas on the table, and within a few weeks, we were holding our first casting and portfolio sessions, trying to build contacts and developing our marketing materials. It has been such a whirlwind since that cold beach walk in February 2017.
JS: What are your goals for the company over the next five years?
L&Z: We have so many gorgeous and able models on our books, who have great passion and confidence. We are really hopeful that Zebedee Management will go from strength to strength and our models will continue to be booked for many major fashion campaigns, as well as commercial opportunities. We would like to see ALL retailers and brands recognising the importance of disability diversity and advertising, and we hope that discrimination in the industry will cease to exist. We want Zebedee to be considered one of the top modelling agencies rather than just a specialist modelling agency.
We hope that they work that Zebedee, its models and the brands we work with, will impact on the wider society in terms of changing attitudes and developing peoples understanding of disability. We are optimistic that this will make for a more caring society and a nicer place for us all to live.
JS: I love the idea of celebrating small successes—well, any successes, really. What was the last pinch-me moment for Zebedee?
L&Z: This is hard to say, every single contact, casting or booking we get still fills us with excitement and happiness. We were over the moon to have three of our talent recently booked for the closing charity event at London Fashion Week, they all had an absolute blast and looked fantastic. Most recently, we have a little boy booked for a car brand commercial – we are so excited for him! We are also working with a couple of major high street brands on their back to school campaigns – it’s all just wonderful!
We have been gathering feedback from our talent and their families, and it’s clear that we are more than just a talent agency to them, and the impact on some people’s lives has been huge. Here are a couple of recent quotes
In addition, Zebedee Management have been nominated for a National Diversity Award! This is such an honour, and we are so pleased that our hard work and impact on individuals, families, communities and society is being recognised.
JS: How would you characterize the industry’s reception to your work?
L&Z: The reception to our work has overall been really positive. We have received lots of positive media attention and keep ourselves busy with a steady stream of bookings. That said, disability discrimination still exists, and there are definitely some people in the industry who are not yet at the point where they will use disabled models or actors. There are many brands who have been harder to reach out to, or for whatever reason have chosen not to work with us. We know we have a very long way to go and we will continue to knock on doors to create new opportunities. We have always received excellent feedback from all of our model bookings and we are hopeful that our good reputation will encourage other brands to use our models. We know that the public wants to see representative advertising, so it is now up to the brands to follow suit.
JS: What steps do you take to help clients prepare for working with differently-abled models and actors?
L&Z: When we put our talent forward for work, we are open and honest about their needs. We have a conversation with casting directors and bookers about how they might consider making an environment better or more accessible for talent to ensure that they get the most from their shoot.
In addition, we have developed materials which give some helpful tips in terms of working with people with learning disabilities, for example casting our talent first to avoid long waits, using props, learning a few basic Makaton signs etc.
JS: You offer some wrap-around services for your clients such as regular workshops and assistance securing other benefits/opportunities. Describe how this works.
Prior to meeting our talent, we provide information on industry expectations, as we want to make sure that people are prepared for things such as lots of travel, busy environments etc. As our talent all have additional needs it is important to think carefully about whether this suits them. Following on from this, we then like to meet all of our models for an initial casting session and introduction to Zebedee and the industry. This gives us chance to have conversations around what to expect, and also see how talent cope in a studio setting.
At Zebedee Management we hold regular workshops to try to develop confidence and skills and often arrange test shoots which both develop skills and portfolios. We hold social events and performance events, which build skills, confidence and develop friendships and a sense of community.
We are always available to talk through any issues or concerns and can signpost people to other services for support. In addition, our talent has set up their own support group which they run themselves.
You may also be interested in our post on Looks Like Me Talent Agency. Click here to meet the founder of Looks Like Me Selma Nichols.
Photography courtesy of Zebedee Management – All rights reserved.
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