I once read that Christopher Columbus upon sailing into the pristine waters of the Caribbean Sea and coming across the Island of Jamaica, was not only quite taken by the majesty of the Island itself, but was even more staggered by the beauty of the women he encountered there. For hundreds of years Jamaican women have been revered for their diverse beauty which has among its numbers several international pageant winners and finalist, as well as world famous models and actresses.
Five hundred years after Columbus’ “discovery”, we have a young dynamic Jamaican entrepreneur looking to make a few discoveries of her own. Kerrian Smart, CEO of the much talked about Yemaya Agency has recently assumed the helm of the newest agency to open its doors in the Caribbean. Her intent is to make an explosive impact on the world of international modeling by indentifying and refining Island talent, then exposing them to the global spotlight.
We recently caught up with the former model turned beauty executive at her offices in the Cayman Islands where she provided some insight into her vision for the company.
1. Would you give our audience some background on the inception of the Yemaya Agency?
Kerrian Smart: We started Yemaya on the idea of (showcasing) unique talents that is not only portraying fashion but the uniqueness of the black Caribbean men and women. We surpass on the everyday ‘model look’ but grasp on the everyday young faces that we see on the streets of our communities.
2. One of the things that caught my attention about your agency is that not only do you address modeling, but also other aspects of entertainment with divisions like Yemaya Entertainment and Crete Couture. Tell us a little more about those ventures.
Kerrian Smart: Yemaya has yet to spread her wings even more, the team will be focusing on having their own designing section. We are currently doing a project on our then Crete Couture in which we changed the name to fit the concept of the designs to Retro Couture. Retro Couture will be a very old vintage fashion line with a modern twist in them; we’re talking about bringing back the old graffiti and old school cartoon characters, vintage car, old school celebrities etc… ‘hand painted’ on blank clothing, jeans in particular. Yemaya will be a compact company in entertainment, creativity and fashion.
3. How is your approach to Yemaya Man different or similar to that of Yemaya Models?
Kerrian Smart: Yemaya Man Magazine would focus on the everyday man of the Caribbean, instead of celebrities or dignitaries. Each month, Yemaya Man will publish photos of ten Caribbean men along with a brief description of each. These men will be from every walk of life, businessmen, tradesmen, athletes, students, models, etc. The unique qualities that make them special will be briefly described, whether they are physical, mental or emotional. Each month, the readers will have the opportunity to vote their choice for the next month’s cover man for Yemaya Man. The cover man will be showcased the following month with photo tribute along with a special article detailing his life and interests. Although the photography is hot and seductive, photographs of males are always acceptable to modern day standards of morality. The articles written by talented writers deal with the everyday highs and lows experienced by all women at work and play. Love, sex, passion, lust, heartache, fear, sorrow, health … no topic is a taboo. If women live it and feel it, Yemaya Man writes about it.
4. I see that you are in the midst of an expansion with the opening of a satellite site in the Cayman Islands. Why the Caymans?
Kerrian Smart: It was just upon a regular visit to the Cayman Islands, surprisingly we have seen a lot of independent models that has been marketing themselves without an agency representation. Also wide range of artistic photographers and small promotional agencies that have independently held fashion shows for fashion designers and local clothing stores. Majority of Cayman fashion Models are Jamaican born or Jamaican parent, and in this case, contributes to our decision in having our first expansion there. And I must add that we have been getting a lot of positive feedback with some models to have an agency represent them for some security benefits.
5. Tell us about yourself as far as your role as CEO from an entrepreneurial point of view, as well as a bit about your background in the industry.
Kerrian Smart: As a teenager in the past that had an interest in modeling, I couldn’t afford to sign with any of the big name model agencies in Jamaica. I went undiscovered, as the CEO of Yemaya I want to change all that, we’re marketing our models the affordable way for them, what they invest in terms of monetary service and interest in Yemaya is what they receive and more. Once the agency has created a known name throughout the industry, then the models won’t need to invest in us, we will invest in them.
6. Bethann Hardison, (one of the original supermodels and owner of one of the top modeling agencies in New York), once stated that one of her concerns with modern modeling is the increasing difficulty in finding “amazing girls”. Expressing that she “…would rather have no girls than two mediocre girls…”. Tell us how do you feel about that and also how do you scout for talent?
Kerrian Smart: I somewhat agree and disagree with her statement, we have turn ‘mediocre’ girls in outstanding fashion and print models. It has to do with who is representing the talent, the team that is behind the models. Most of our models we found them on the streets of various parishes, and in most case these talents lack interest in travelling to Kingston to go on an audition of some of the top model agencies here in Jamaica. Most of the top models in the world were discovered by scouts or agents that made them into the stars they are today. For instance Naomi Campbell was spotted by Beth Boldt, a former Ford model while window shopping.
7. Now I understand that you have an open contract policy which is one of the things that has garnered the loyalty of some of the models you represent. What it’s the Yemaya definition of an open contract?
Kerrian Smart: Our open contract policies are very simple and uncomplicated, the model as in the contract holder can have gainful employment with other model agencies but cannot sign with any due to conflict reasons. In most case, a model will be signed to an agency and would wait for an opportunity to arrive for profitable assignments, which in Jamaica due to our economical downfall; we give all our contract holders permission to find gainful employment otherwise. We understand why in many cases models sneak off to work for other model and promotional agencies, and many bear penalties for breach of contract. Most models might see an opportunity to achieve something but because they’re bind to an agency they can’t go for it. We tell all our models, you see an opportunity where you can be a successful model, let us know we will make the necessary arrangements with the contract.
8. I recently ran into Andre Leon Talley, Editor -At-Large for Vogue, at New York Fashion Week. I happened to catch him in mid-nostalgic lament for the days when the model, as a muse, was the focus and not the collection. He prefers the days when models were discovered and nurtured and the collection evolved around them. What would you say to that? What is your opinion on the subject?
Kerrian Smart: I think the modeling industry worldwide is making sure the models stays less attractive so that the fashion stands out more. While in everyday life, people tend to turn their head at an attractive woman wearing the same design “strutting” the streets. That’s what Yemaya aims to bring back, we’re bringing ‘sexy’ tall, statuesque exotic black and mix young faces on the runway. No more or rather ‘less’ of the pale dull look on the runway.
9. Now I would be remiss is I did not address a subject that has been vigorously debated in the industry of late, and that is the subject of race. Specifically, the noticeable absence of people of color on the runways, in the editorial spreads and especially at the couture levels of fashion. In your opinion, what will it take for more than just one or two models of color at a time, to make a major breakthrough in the fashion industry?
Before I started Yemaya, I have seen so many…well ‘Naomi Campbell and Grace Jones’ in Jamaica. But how can these girls be discovered? These girls are not putting out nor have no interest in modeling most of the time. The modeling industry in general, big name agencies worldwide, I think would want girls like these but are too busy marketing their own top models. I think they should once in a while send scouts in different parts of the Caribbean to scout for models or getting representatives to work for them in their own countries. These agencies don’t have the time to go anywhere seeking for models. In this case they just use the models that they have in their own countries, and also because of the immigration policies against some Caribbean countries, most of these models will never be discovered.
10. There has been a recent trend which casting agents selecting the models for a show and not the designer? How do you feel about that?
Kerrian Smart: It can be a situation where the agency has its own designers and does not tend need to book anymore for the fashion show. And it all depends on what was the theme of the fashion show. I can also relate to this myself, because most of the time our agency uses our own creation for own fashion shows. Most top and upcoming designers in Jamaica, goes with the top name model agencies that have a more wide reach on the public to market their products, if you don’t have a name you can’t get them to do a show, even if they get the service of the agency for free.
11. What impact do you see the Yemaya Agency having on the industry, I mean what is the goal of the company in term of fashion?
Kerrian Smart: We want to pour some colour into the industry, we are not going to wait for the talents to come to us, and we’re going to seek for the talents. We want to capitalize our Caribbean men and women so the rest of the world can see our exotic beauties.
12. What advice would you offer those aspiring models out there hoping to sign with your agency?
Kerrian Smart: An agency can only do so much to market a model, interest goes a far way.
Being a model takes a time and effort, if you’re not willing to put in the necessary effort to be model, then you’re wasting your time signing with ‘any’ model agency.
For information on the Yemaya Modeling Agency go to www.Yemaya-Models.com or locate them at their fan page via Facebook.