The small island of Hispaniola has provided the fashion industry with the stalwart muses of modern times. If you look to the East (albeit the Western border has Haitian stunners of their own), the Dominican Republic has oftentimes been the supplier of pioneering names that have commanded the runways like Omahyra Mota, Rose Cordero, Marihenny Pasible, and Arlenis Sosa. These models, often leaving their neighborhoods for the first time, get on international flights and are jettisoned into culture-shocking fashion productions, that they then flip into financially fruitful, life-changing careers. Out of the few mother agencies on the island that have been the pipeline to the luxury fashion market, Ossygeno Models stands out from the rest representing the modern beauties that have dominated the industry like Lineisy Montero, Hiandra Martinez, Ysaunny Brito, Anyelina Rosa, Ambar Cristal Zarzuela and Luisana Gonzalez to name a rising few. We spoke with director Sandro Guzman on how he first got into representation, his marquee roster of model talent, and the Dominican Republic’s place in the future of fashion.
I was curious about how you got started in the first place? I know you said it’s almost 25 years you’ve been in the business.
This wasn’t my business. I used to have a very famous clothing store and sold designer clothes, back in the 90s. It was one of the most famous stores here. Young kids that could be models began to work for the store, really became the image of the store. These faces that I picked up, ended up doing all the runway shows and all the magazine covers here but without doing anything international. One day I realized, “Oh my God, I love doing this. Why not take these girls outside?” So that’s when I made the connections for them to go, but they never signed to me as a model or mother agency. I didn’t know the business, I just wanted to help some of them.
Do you remember the first model you signed?
Alejandra Cata was the first one. She had a huge commercial career. She worked in Paris, Milan, New York -she made a lot of money. But she never signed with us as a mother agency. Because of her, I realized I could help build a career for models outside of the Dominican Republic.
What it means to look Dominican is evolving. Was it a conscientious decision when scouting to develop a diverse perspective of what beauty looks like here?
I randomly did a final project when I graduated from university and it was about marketing models. I had the eye to look for not just one specific product, but to diversify it so we can penetrate more markets. This was even before the store. You gotta have the eye. If you don’t have it, you don’t have it.
Take me behind an average day. I see a very small team operation, and you’re able to do this scouting and scout all over the island to be able to supply the world with this amazing market. What’s your process when it’s not Fashion Week?
We work for 24 hours. Even sleeping, we’re dreaming of this. This is not only about business, I found that I can change someone’s life; someone’s family life. When these girls go out, they come from very poor families and they usually help a lot financially. So I have found something that also fills my soul, that is not only about the business. We sponsor the girls until they go out and they don’t have to pay back the agency either.
Of course, there’s the success that you’ve had and the success of the models that you represent, but I wonder, what challenges have you faced being a mother agency in a global business? Have there been any pitfalls that people don’t see a lot? I imagine it’s very hard.
Convincing the families. It’s not easy. These girls are not a number, they’re friends. It’s like my daughters. I defend all of them like they were family. You have to convince families to help them because, without the families, they would never do it. So that’s the main struggle, to convince the family that this is something they can live by. Parents say, “What is this? That’s not a university title. Where she’s gonna live?” They don’t know that they can make money from this and this is a career. I mean, here you have to have a title from the university to be successful. Yaris Cedano worked on for 13 years in the international market traveled all over the world, made a lot of money, and still went back to study in university, graduate in politics and continue her education. She wants to be the president of the Dominican Republic.
I mean, you talk about how life-changing this experience can be for Dominican models as well, but I wonder, what’s one thing you want the world to know about the Dominican Republic and the models that come from here? Do you feel like they’ve been underrepresented in the past?
Dominicans have a lot of acceptance in the world and they have traveled without speaking English. I think the charm of Dominican models has opened the doors. These girls are doing a great positive job representing the Dominican Republic. They’re the new ambassadors of the Dominican Republic like baseball players.
What could governmental recognition do for the modeling industry in the Dominican Republic?
Little by little the international models have been becoming trademarks in our country. I believe that all of the support from the international press and important articles in The NY Times, Vogue, People en Español, and others have helped the entire country to recognize the great job these Dominican beauties have been doing.
What would you think makes a model last in this business?
Discipline. Discipline is the key to opening the door. Without discipline and having the will to do things, they will never succeed.
Has COVID 19 disrupted your business or the models you represent in any way? How have you had to evolve?
COVID 19 has affected everything and of course our models, their work lifestyle was centered around taking airplanes and going to work in the different markets. Many markets are not approving work visas due to the pandemic and some have even closed their doors completely. The 14-day quarantine in some countries has been an obstacle as well. We have mainly tried to continue the development of some new faces that don’t have the age requirement to debut yet and been following up that our talent always respects social distancing rules.
You were talking about your scouting eye and how great it is. How do you find the right person, the right model, to say you want to represent.
It’s really a divine moment, I can find them but they also have to want to do it! I discovered a lot on the streets, just going out. I’m 100% convinced that these girls came here because God has a plan for them. I almost crashed a car to go running after a girl, Rose Cordero. We stopped and Rose got so scared. She was walking outside a park. It was a year after when she finally called. Her mother and she were watching a TV show and they saw me on it and they said, “That’s the guy that stopped us on the streets.” Anyelina Rosa, I discovered her going down the stairs at the mall. She was just 13 and from a town, two hours from Santo Domingo called La Vega. They never called. Three years after, they saw me on a TV show, just like Rose. Three months later, she debuted worldwide for Saint Laurent.
You’ve already accomplished so, so much. Do you have any other major goals in the future? What is your focus for the next five years?
There’s a lot of plans. Now I’m focusing on putting more quantity of Dominicans throughout the fashion world. Now it’s easier because casting directors know them already. At first, they used to get all these pictures from us but say, “Okay, we’ll call you, we’ll call you.” When our models went to visit agencies, they didn’t know them or understand their beauty. They’d put them on hold, say “Call tomorrow.” Now, they’re coming here to visit.
I’m writing a book from these 25 years of experience. There are almost a thousand girls that I have trained and I’ve gotten more than a hundred girls contracts worldwide, so that’s something I want to document. I would also like to get the government to recognize modeling more and maybe do a museum exhibit that shows the labor of all these years that Dominican models have contributed. All the runway shows; all the campaigns. For the government to recognize that models are as big as baseball players. Models are the ones that are really putting the Dominican Republic on the map internationally because these campaigns get around the world. Dior, YSL, Chanel, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs. All the best labels have Dominicans in their shows. It’s amazing.
What’s the biggest thing you learned about yourself and the world in general in the past year?
We have learned many things but also started to value the little things that the fast-paced world has made us forget. Family became a priority once again, social media, that was once highly criticized, served to unite families and for business to operate. Personally, I tried to make the best out of it physically and spiritually. This year will mark us all forever but helped us be better human beings.