How Digital Scouting Has Kept These West African Mother Agencies Afloat

Calling in from Europe Cherif Douamba and Mensah Benjamin of Yafan | Eya Mariam of Anani

Wondered how the life of the international models and agents has been like during this global pandemic? With limited runways to walk and shoots, lives have certainly been affected, especially if you factor in the nomadic models essential to new exclusives every fashion week season. The model mother agencies in West Africa, specifically in Ghana and Nigeria, like most members of the fashion and beauty industry, have had their fair share of repercussions from the novel coronavirus pandemic; back payments, ever-growing, resulting in layoffs of both staff and model representation; lockdowns, safety measures, and visa regulations stranding models at home; little to no bookings for their signed models stuck abroad. Models have always worked under the unfavorable condition of chance discovery but the pandemic only worsened scouting chances. For an industry that thrives on constant travel, convergence, and getting up close and personal, strict lockdown orders and travel bans caused havoc that might be irreversible. Slashed advertising budgets only led to more canceled runway slots for shows and traditional, in-person photoshoots became more cumbersome to shoot.

One could simply conclude that with these problems this might be the apocalypse of the industry. Yet surprisingly as the world enters this new abnormal normal, international mother agencies say they’re finding creative ways to get their models the work they need, resorting to new digital means. With images shot by Delwin Kamara for, correspondent Ekow Barnes spoke with some fast-rising models and five agency directors from Yafan, Star, Fuse, Cast, and Anani mother agencies in Ghana and Nigeria – from a safe distance, of course – on what the current situation looks like for them and how they’re locking in coveted debuts and key placements.

Photographer – Delwin Kamara for | Writer – Ekow Barnes | Editor – Irene Ojo-Felix | Photo Assistant – Nelson Oghenekewe

Shot in Accra Bedzo Seth of Yafan Models

Ghanaian model Bedzo Seth signed with Yafan Models in Accra and was soon represented worldwide with a debut season walking Louis Vuitton, Missoni, Botter, and Acne yet has had a hard time while sidelined in Accra. “I’m motivated by the fact that things are not going to be like this forever,” Seth explains. “I believe we will someday regain our freedom (and) life will come back to normal.” Rising star Quaye Dennis also had a very successful first season at Louis Vuitton, Loewe, and debuting at Prada. Influenced to become a model by fellow Yafan o-worker Ottawa Kwami and Senegalese model Malick Bodian, Dennis went on to appear in different fashion campaigns and editorials but has since been sidelined since the pandemic started. With tricky navigation of visa laws, travel bans, quarantine, testing, and limited housing for the many models that got their start last year, they’re in limbo. “This current crisis has affected my career because I’m not able to travel to go and work,” Dennis explains. “I have hope that things will change and everything will get back to normal.”

Yafan Model Development Board

Having a conversation with Yafan’s Director of Men’s Division, Monde Gcisa tells us that one positive aspect of the past year was the pandemic did not dampen demand. “COVID-19 didn’t have much impact on the placing of models as agents, we are always very excited to represent our boys in their markets. When you have a strong enough face you will have agencies all bidding to represent your model for the days post-pandemic.” Those strong faces have included Kwami, Cherif Douamba, and Mensah Benjamin who have been locking down campaigns for Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Jil Sander while in Europe. Francis Nordzo, Yafan CEO and Founder also cautioned, “for us, it was not the placing of models that was much of an issue as compared to how we get our models back into Europe. We are an international agency which means we depend on various markets to keep the lights on. As a team, we had to find creative solutions on how to keep our models working with their European clientele whilst they were home in Africa.” Those solutions boiled down to focusing on the surge of work that could be done locally aligning with campaigns and lookbooks for Daily Paper, Post Imperial, and a Gucci advertorial sponsored by Manju Journal.

Calling in from New York Dede Mansro of Fuse Models

Dede Mansro, a Ghanaian breakout model who graced the cover of Vogue Italia got signed during the lockdown last year by her mother agency, Fuse Models in Lagos, Nigeria, who later connected her to Next Models for worldwide representation. Having to shoot her first worldwide campaign for Nike, Mansro talked about her goals now that she’s attained that career milestone, “Seeing Black Women on covers and billboards when I moved here made me feel inspired to do that for young girls when they look at my work.” Fuse founder, Kwen Maye explains how fulfilling it’s been to see Mansro’s growth, “being a model booker can be exhausting sometimes, but whenever I get overwhelmed I just go back to our archives and see how it all started.” For Maye it’s been the best time to scout models like Mansro and Michele Opiyo then place them abroad as “a lot of agencies abroad are taking this time to sign new faces and they’re paying attention to models’ submissions unlike before when they were always super busy.”

Shot in Lagos Queen Onyemaechi (center) and Anani Model Development Board

Queen Onyemaechi of Anani Models in Lagos noted that the pandemic further bolstered digital scouting methods mentioning “placing the new faces with international agencies is a different game on its own. Scouting continues and there’s definitely no end to it right now.” Already successful in getting models like Eya Mariam, Janet Jumbo, and Victoria Fawole placed, the added development time as vaccine distribution makes its way through global markets means more time for education and a matured focus on the business of fashion. “With the new norm right now the plan is to further develop and prepare them while waiting for the slightest opportunity we get.” Yet it all comes down to the bottom dollar and traveling is a direct connection to higher-paid work. Star Models’ founder Aisha Bello, who helped internationally place Caren Jepkemei, Adhel Bol, and Precious Kevin, along with head booker David Okposo noted “It’s been super frustrating representing these rising models who couldn’t travel because all embassies in Africa are shut down. Our young models are super stunning and did local jobs but our main target is also to see them on the international platform.”

Shot in Lagos Precious Eke Kalu of Star Models | Janet Jumbo of Anani Models

The pandemic challenged the modeling and fashion industry to adapt to ensure long-term sustainability. “The pandemic has affected the traveling opportunities of our great talents but it has also given us the management time to restructure,” Lord Ameyao Gidiglo, Director from Cast Models in Ghana who represents models like Akon Changkou, Grace Quaye and Olaide Zainab narrates. “To the management, it’s been frustrating representing the models but they understand the situation at stake.” Accra stands as a green industry for modeling with not that many lucrative opportunities for talent yet local productions for Off-White x Daily Paper capsule collections, Studio 189, and local fashion weeks kept them afloat. As we await a return to full freedom of movement and a full recovery to take hold, models will need to ramp things up in the next year and a half to make up for any of last year’s contract losses.

Shot in Lagos Happy Momoh, Olaide Zainab, and Tosin O of Cast Models

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