2022 – A 20-year-old sets up a modeling agency to promote diversity – and Vogue, Burberry and Gucci capitalize on his talent

Major fashion brands have embraced models that almost a decade ago wouldn’t be in campaigns or on the runway.

  • Rare Select Models was founded in 2017 to improve diversity and inclusion in fashion.
  • More and more brands are incorporating different models into campaigns, supported by social movements.
  • Ads now feature dark-skinned, hijab-wearing models and non-European ideals of beauty.

Romany Francesa was only 20 when she founded Rare Select Models while still a student after realizing that certain groups were underrepresented in the fashion industry.

Francesca made her mark as a photographer, with filmmakers often asking her if she knew of any ethnic minority models. I realized that there is a gap in the market to represent different models.

“I’ve noticed that the models typically chosen for campaigns and ‘look books’ have European-centric traits,” Francesca, 25, tells Insider. “It wasn’t cool to have dark-skinned or hijabi models in campaigns.”

Five years later, Rare Select models appeared in haute couture campaigns by Mode Italy, ValentinoBurberry, Gucci, Paul Smith and Stella McCartney.

Francesa has seen the fashion industry go through a period of self-correction in recent years, incorporating diversity and inclusion into its advertising campaigns.

The variety of models featured on magazine covers has improved over the past five years.

The British-Nigerian founder says this comes against the background of the Black Lives Matter movement and especially since the George Floyd protests that led to the exposure of racist incidents in the industry.

Almost every second runway run of the fall 2022 fashion season featured models in color, up from less than 30% in 2017, according to a report by The Fashion Spot, a watcher of fashion trends and an advocate of diversity.

However, according to The Fashion Spot, plus-size models made up just 2.3% of tests, up from 0.43% five years ago. Transgender and nonbinary models increased to 1.34% from 0.17% in fall 2017.

A Fashion Spots analysis of 685 covers from 48 major titles found 52.9% of black models were on the covers in 2021, compared to 32.5% in 2017. Last year, 47 models over the age of 50 made the covers that were found, up from 31 in the year 2017.

The number of transgender and non-binary models on magazine covers increased from three in 2017 to 13 in 2021.

The London-based businessman says that prior to the movement three years ago, brands were not quite ready to feature different faces or bodies in their campaigns.

The model is wearing a black and white shirt
Model Alex Chan.

“A few years ago it was more difficult to book different models, but that has changed,” she says.

Other areas of the industry have undergone incremental changes to highlight previously marginalized groups in visual materials.

“We’re seeing more and more dark-skinned models wearing the hijab and coming from the transgender community as the industry tries to sort out its mistakes in some ways and learn to be more diverse and not cut off from certain demographics,” Francesca tells Insider.

She credits companies like Fenty, Paul Smith and Zara for their “amazing” campaigns that represent people of all backgrounds.

“We pushed for our models to be known before ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ became buzzwords and before it was seen as something companies should do to avoid isolating themselves from customers and other demographics,” Francesca says.

Close-up of a model with red highlighter
Model Emily Emro photographed by Romani Francesca, founder of Rare Select Models

Giving people from different backgrounds a seat around a table helps promote diversity in the industry even more where they can use their influence and experience to drive change.

“I feel like having someone of color in a senior position has helped tremendously,” she says.

Edward Enninful became the first black editor of British Vogue in 2017, and last year Ib Kamara became Dazed’s first black editor-in-chief.

The cover of British Vogue February 2022 featured all the black African models. These versions are the source of influence and direction, often setting the tone for others,” says Francesca.

“We hope the models at Rare Select will be appreciated and that this is where organizations come first to find different models. We are always looking for people with disabilities, plus size models and ethnic minority models.”

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