Q & A: Shaw Bernard, Strut Models
Strut Models is a boutique modeling agency in Dumbo committed to providing quality service and offers high caliber talent to their clients. We sat down with Shaw Bernard, the president of Strut Models to talk about what this new modeling agency in all about, including their focus on diversity, inclusion, and individuality.
Tell us about Strut Models - what you do, and how you do it differently!
Shaw: I'm Shaw, the President of Strut Models. We are in Dumbo, and we are very excited to be here. It is so important for me to stay in Brooklyn with the agency with Dumbo being the new Mecca of creativity.
We are a boutique modeling agency. We represent men, women, and children. We just launched our children's division, which we're very excited about. We work with fashion, commercials clients, and advertising agencies, etc.
What's really important for us at the agency is individuality, diversity and inclusivity. Those are the 3 pillars that the agency stands on. We take a different approach to management style. It's more individualized and the models always come first in terms of how we shape their careers. Another component of our work is establishing solid relationships with the clients, and ensuring that we're giving them the quality talent that they need for their projects.
What's really important for us at the agency is individuality, diversity and inclusivity. Those are the 3 pillars that the agency stands on. We take a different approach to management style. It's more individualized and the models always come first in terms of how we shape their careers.
What was your journey to modeling and establishing Strut Models?
Shaw: My journey has been an interesting one. One that is unconventional, but I'm very proud of it.
I started modeling at the age of 14, having a lofty goal of having an amazing career. I didn't sign my first modeling contract until I was 22. Between 14 and 22, I did a lot of freelancing, a lot of building my portfolio, a lot of trying to figure it out. I was doing modeling events and working independently with designers, makeup artists, photographers, etc.
When I signed my first modeling contract, it was actually with a boutique agency, much like Strut Models is now. At 25, I decided that I would start Strut. We were not a modeling agency initially–we were more of modeling school. I learned a lot about the business when I started Strut — it's not an industry with clear guidelines as to how to own/run a modeling agency! As I figured things out along the way, I connected with different people, and Strut became a mother agency, focusing on scouting, management, and development. It's always just been a dream of mine to compete at the highest level with the other agencies in New York. I always saw myself owning a full service agency, having clients, and having high caliber models.
A year ago, I was fortunate enough to get a partner that believed in what I was doing and saw an opportunity to grow the brand. We did exactly that! We dove head first to getting the space, getting all the credentials necessary, and hiring the staff.
Now, we're rocking and rolling, and I'm very grateful. My path wasn't easy. There were many times I wanted to give up. In fact, a year ago, I was at a place where I was unclear about my next steps. I started a masters program in early childhood education and thought of ending this modeling journey. Then, an opportunity presented itself, urging me to continue with my passion. In my journey, whenever I thought of giving up, I consistently found myself with an even greater opportunity than before to push me onto this road. So it was confirmation that this is what I need to be doing, this is the task that was set forth for me, and I have to complete it.
When I first started, I thought a lot about the values that I could bring to the table. And over the years I realize that I do offer a lot of values, and I am worthy of people trusting me to shape their careers. Now, I have at least 40 models in my care, who are working and booking. I believe that they're going to have an opportunity to have the career that they dream of, because I know that feeling of not being believed in, not even being seen by an agency, and not being given the opportunity. There is just a greater purpose in what I do, and I have a sense of fulfillment seeing my models achieving their goals.
My path wasn't easy. There were many times I wanted to give up...but I consistently found myself with an even greater opportunity than before to push me onto this road.
What an inspiring story! What lessons or advice would you share with others who are also trying to follow their passion?
Shaw: There are so many lessons that I’ve learned throughout the years. Something that I would like to share is that things don't always align, or go in the direction that you have planned. You may start any venture, whether it be business or your personal growth, and have things that you want planned out. What I've learned is when you're on that journey, and when things are not aligning the way that you envisioned, it doesn't mean that you're not going to arrive in your desired direction. You'll definitely take twists and turns throughout your career.
For me, there's always been something within me that I don't even know how to verbalize, this feeling that I've had ever since I was a girl in terms of ambition and dreams to be an owner of an agency. It's a thing that gnaws at me. If I'm not doing it, I'm unsettled. It's always in my mind and every time I want to give up on it, I'm not at peace. Then, once I'm doing it, I feel so alive. It's the happiest place for me to be, to wake up every day coming into my office with my team.
It has definitely been a difficult road. And honestly, to even be here, it seems surreal. It's like you know you want something, and you visualize it, and when it comes to fruition, it's even more amazing than what you could have imagined. It's a testament of continuing to remain steadfast and doing the small things that really add up. You just never know what opportunity it could present. Most importantly, even when you are not where you would like to be and you're doing things or roles that you don't particularly want to have, show up there and be excellent regardless. There's so much value in that because that's what landed me here. I was in another job that was not ideal for me, but I went there every day, always on time, professional, eager to learn and grasp everything that the position had for me to grow...and now I'm here.
Your entrepreneurial mindset is impressive! As a boutique agency, how do you find your models and what is your approach to developing and nurturing talent?
Shaw: We find our models in many different ways. We actually have a Director of Scouting. His role is to source models for us, and he does that in numerous ways. Instagram is an important source for finding models that we want to exclusively sign. We also find models through other agencies--they are the primary representation, and they place models with us for the New York market.
Plus, everybody in the office is an unofficial scout, in traditional ways as well on the street.
I recently scouted a beautiful girl at an establishment that I frequent. She'd been approached numerous times and never felt comfortable, but we signed her, and she's gonna be one of our stars.
When the models come in, it is so important for them to know that I'm here for them and I have their best interests at heart, because there is no us without them, and vice versa. I really take pride in establishing solid relationships with our models.
And what is your approach in establishing relationships with your models?
Shaw: We know our relationships with our models are important. I used to be a mother agent, and the primary focus of a mother agent is scouting, development, and the placement of models in other markets. That is essentially the same structure that I utilize here, making sure that I, too, have a solid relationship with the models.
In fact, some of the models actually call me ‘Mom’, it's very family oriented. It's so important for me to create that kind of energy. I can also see that it has been replicated because the models themselves, in turn, have great relationships with each other.
I let them know that I'm here for the person and the professional. They can come into my office and talk to me at any time about anything. Sometimes, they just want to come in and touch base and figure out what are the next steps for their career. I inspire them (the other agents) to go after new clients, submit a particular model that they may not have considered, etc. I tell them my door is open even if it's closed literally, when they come to Strut.
Our official tagline is ‘new agency, but not new to the industry'
In addition to the new kids division, what is your vision for the future Strut?
We are expanding to represent transgender models. We created a relationship with the agency that specializes in transgender models, and they're going to be placing them with us. We're very excited about that as I'm very big on diversity and inclusivity.
I really want us to be seen as people who know what we're doing, and we're at the helm of the changing of the tide. Our official tagline is ‘new agency, but not new to the industry’.
We've been fortunate enough to acquire staff that have a wealth of experience in the industry that have worked at the biggest agencies, and manage some of the biggest models in the world. They're here with us to do something special again. So that's really what's coming up for us: It's just continuing to stay true to the image that it's ours. It's Strut, it's not trying to be like any other agency.
How has Dumbo been, as a new home for Strut?
When we were looking for a location, being in Brooklyn was important to me. I wanted Strut to be based in a popular, thriving, artsy place. So we looked in Greenpoint, we looked in Williamsburg, and we landed in Dumbo. I thought to myself, “It is definitely going to be Dumbo”. It's so cool and vibrant with all the creativity, and there are so many things going on in the area to boost it even more.
We have loved it since we've been here, and our clients really love it, the models also love it. When I have other mother agencies come in, I can take them out to lunch in the area. We love Time Out Market –- that's my go-to place to take people to eat when they come into town.
When we were looking for a location, being in Brooklyn was important to me. I wanted Strut to be based in a popular, thriving, artsy place...we landed in Dumbo...It's so cool and vibrant with all the creativity, and there are so many things going on in the area to boost it even more.