Slay Model Management is the first exclusively transgender modeling agency, set up to break down barriers that have prevented trans models from rising to the top echelons of the fashion industry.
“It’s time the world recognizes the amazing talent the trans community has to offer,” says founder Cecilio Asuncion, a former film director who entered fashion after his documentary film focusing on transgender issues, What’s the T?, won awards at LGBT film festivals. “We believe one’s gender identity should not be a hindrance to one’s fashion dreams.”
While being trans is a pre-requisite for all models on the Slay Model Management roster, it is not a guarantee for being signed with the agency.
“We do not sign just anyone,” Asuncion says. “Models must have the right height, measurements and a drive.”
He works alongside Genesis Ilada, a make-up artist and photographer whose work has appeared in Vogue, Kit, Defure, Trash, Bello and Jute magazines, in scouting new talent. They view talent as models first and trans individuals second. “We’re competing against the world’s top girls. We’re not asking clients to give our models special treatment,” says Llads. Adds Asuncion, “We’re simply saying, if trans models can do the job, let them do the damn job.”
Asuncion points out that trans models such as Lauren Foster, Caroline Cossey and Tracey Africa have had successful careers for years, appearing in fashion magazines and campaigns. “But they often had to hide who they were in order to secure opportunities. We’re encouraging our models to wear their gender as a badge of honor. We want them to view their uniqueness as an asset that may help them to stand out in a crowded fashion field.”
At 12-years-old, Alex is the youngest trans girl on the Slay Model board. Her mother says she signed her daughter with Slay because she’s more comfortable with her daughter’s participation in the fashion industry being represented by an exclusively trans agency.
Arisce, formerly with Ford Models, is perhaps the most recognizable face on the roster. Recently, she was featured in German Vogue. She believes being represented by an agency that consists solely of transgender models frees her from the need to conform to preconceived notions of what a top model should be like.
Claudia Charriez echoes Arisce’s sentiments. Having forged a modeling career with stints on America’s Next Top Model and The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, Charriez is excited to be part of a community who understands and supports one another in an industry that still considers them outsiders.
2015 has been a year of progress for the trans community with many exciting breakthroughs. There was the reality show devoted to Caitlyn Jenner’s life and transition. Laverne Cox of Orange Is the New Black appeared on the cover of Time. And Raffi Freedman-Gurspan becomethe first transgender appointee in the White House.
But Asuncion is quick to draw the line between progress and acceptance. “Trans issues are being talked about more but it’s too early to assume it’s all better,” he says. He’ll believe real change has been made when a trans model appears in an ad for Target or Walmart.
“The day I see a trans model pushing a shopping cart in a campaign for a major retailer, and no one bats an eye, is the day I will know my work is done.”
For more information, visit SlayModels.com.
— Mike Bahr