With a specific focus on models of color, 208 Management is creating change within the modeling industry, addressing the lack of diversity that has long been ignored.
Highlighting individuality and unique beauty, 208 Management aims to contribute to the modeling industry’s changing landscape as we know it to expand the horizon of what is possible.
We speak with Syranno Wilkens, the Owner of 208 management, about what prompted him to create his agency and his approach to developing talent.
How long has 208 Management been in business, and what services do you provide?
208 Management has been in business on paper since November 2019, but 208 Management has been in business since the minute I started developing my first model.
The moment when I issued my first bit of information used to advance a model’s career was when 208 began its business. The service I provide is to advance the voices and representation of models of color by infiltrating brands that traditionally only use European models to represent their brand identities.
The service I provide is for that young woman or a young man with goals and aspirations to be bigger than the glass ceiling provided to them. I’m in service to our culture.
What is the meaning of 208 Management? Why is this a significant message?
208 is the apartment where 90% of my creativity and passion for photography came to the forefront, where the idea of creating the agency was born.
This is the apartment where I developed my first set of models, where I met my wife and connected with lifelong friends in my business and personal life.
The message behind 208 is to love yourself, and the world will follow suit.
Take us through your journey leading up to the creation of 208 Management. At what point did it become apparent that you had to start your agency?
In 2009 I picked up my first camera. I didn’t have a particular passion for it, but my son had just been born two years prior, and I wanted to take more than just cell phone photos. (Do you remember cell phones in that era? The camera was horrendous, LOL!)
The camera sat for about six months. I didn’t pick it up. His mom picked it up and started using it, and naturally, it was mine, so I made sure to use it more than she did. I started out with taking random photos- taking photos of family, and at the time, I was into cars, so I started there.
I met my first mentor Michael Williams through a customer at my job at the time. I basically hounded the customer until she could connect us.
Mike introduced me to fashion photography through his magazine he had at the time titled Iconography. He taught me a lesson that I still abide by until this day about sharing information: “I don’t mind teaching you what I know because you will never be me; you will always be your own individual.”
This lesson is why I am so open to giving up the game to people who really want it. I have no fear of them taking my place because there is enough room for everyone.
From going through heartbreak, failed friendships, a stint in artist management (music) to having a spread in Ebony Magazine and having my work featured in Jet- all while living in my apartment (208), I met Quanisha Chapman.
She was the very first model that I developed. I believe she was 16 or 17 at the time. I didn’t even realize at the time I was developing her until I started to see the growth in her images. She was also the first model that I worked with consistently.
She went on to be represented by IPM, State Management, and Dorothy Combs. She ended up working with TJ Maxx, Kohl’s, Universal Standard, Leanne Marshall, and many more. I would be lying if I didn’t admit how happy this makes me. Quanisha is now a proud working mother of a son to whom my wife and I are proud Godparents.
After I started developing my current model Amanda Gay back in the early 2010s, I started realizing it was something that I loved to do.
Watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly in real-time is such a majestic experience to witness. It was 2013-2014 when I had the thought of creating the agency, and after putting it on the back burner to learn as much as I could, I decided to move forward in November 2019.
What is unique about your approach in how you operate? What are some of the core values that you adhere to which impact how you and your models work with partners and clients?
I operate through cultivating self-love and keeping the doors of communication completely and genuinely open. Within most agencies’ confines, it can be the “what have you done for me lately” approach that can kill a model’s self-worth.
I completely understand that when you have a model, they need to be profitable, but if they can’t identify their worth, how will they profit?
The core values that I adhere to are knowledge and self-respect. Models have to be equipped with the tools to succeed in this industry, helping them understand why they should make a specific decision. This is a crucial part of the development process.
Telling a model something and educating a model are two different things. You have to give them the game. You have to, or you’re setting them up for failure.
For example: A model is on set, and the makeup artist is not fully prepared to accommodate her skin tone. To avoid any potential hiccups, I make sure that my models have their model bags equipped with their foundation of choice on-hand for situations like these.
In a similar case, this lack of preparation from the makeup artist may anger the model, and they would like to know why this MUA is not equipped on set? The model lashes out. In turn, they are labeled difficult or emotional. This hurts their career, so on and so forth.
By educating the model on the game they are playing, they understand why their silence is equally as important as their voice.
Collaborating with their agency is key, so this can be addressed and rectified for future shoots with this brand or any other. It would be unfair for a model to complete their own hair or makeup while on set due to someone else’s lack of preparation.
When it comes to proper compensation, I have been working to understand exactly how to rectify this on a more permanent scale.
“It is time for models of color to become more than the flavor of the month, but the beauty standard.” These are just a few words expressing what we have seen occurring in the fashion and beauty industry. What do you believe it will take to have an equal representation of models of color? What actions will this requirement for individuals who want to be successful as models, and what will it need of other entities they partner with?
Equal representation is already being attempted from what I am seeing in the industry currently. It will take a lot more than the guilt that people feel to represent the representation needed for future generations truly.
The actions that are going to be required from models are being educated in the field and understanding their craft and the industry they are in.
Education is vital. You must master your field and master yourself to succeed. Agencies, brands, publications, just the industry as a whole have to stop being reactive. Stop waiting until something happens in the black communities or any community before you begin to show your solidarity- it comes off disingenuous.
Educate yourselves on the type of narratives that you create before creating it. It’s hard for me to believe that someone as big as Gucci and every single person in their company is miseducated on racism in America; it baffles me.
I love the fashion industry. It’s like one big universe utilizing individual stories to create this massive world. What needs to be understood is that this massive world involves everyone and not just one type of individual.
Working as a photographer and operating a modeling agency, you have particular insights into the unique challenges models face while on set and in other spaces. What should models be aware of to prevent conflicts or empower them to handle situations that may have several nuances?
So this question piggybacks off of a comment I made earlier involving the example of the MUA that doesn’t have the correct foundation to do their job fully. Models should be held accountable for what their agencies educate them on. Sometimes you have to look at a fresh face for precisely what the definition entails, FRESH.
The agency needs to educate them on all of these things that they may encounter while on set. Equally, the agency should be asking the right questions, and the agent should be doing the proper research when clients are booking. If the industry truly wants the model to be a hanger then they must provide the clothing.
Let me break this down- if an agent is doing their research on the creative team that the client selects, they understand the correct rate to charge the client.
For example, let’s take the MUA: You go through the MUA’s page on Instagram, and their ratio from fair to darker skin models is small. You can assume that they may or may not feel the need to be equipped with the correct tools to work with darker models because they don’t work with medium to darker-skinned models.
I know you’re thinking, “Well, they’re professionals. They can get it,” but it doesn’t always work that way. Where you feel something should be common sense, others don’t think about it at all.
Now you have the MUA asking the model to do their job. As an agent, you can put a clause in the agreement requiring that they use someone who is equipped to work with your model’s skin tone.
Let’s be clear about something; there is nothing inside the model’s control on set anymore because that’s the narrative that the industry has painted. Yet, even though it’s not within the model’s control, the model is still held accountable for something they can do nothing about except stay silent. How is that fair?
The best way for models to have their voices heard is to hold their agencies accountable for what part they play in stunting the industry’s growth.
With the COVID-19 pandemic creating uncertainty in several industries, what have you found to be the most challenging part of running your agency? How have you made this work in your favor?
The most challenging part of running an agency is finding people in your field who are willing to share information. The pandemic did create an opening in availability for those who typically are way too busy to communicate, especially with an upcoming agency without solid industry ties.
However, being a “fresh face” in the industry despite my strong photography background has its advantages. I can navigate spaces that seasoned industry professionals may be shut off due to other industry ties.
Also, I’m at a point where mistakes are inevitable but not necessarily lethal to my career as I grow.
Now to be clear, I’m not careless in my communications or my actions, but smaller mistakes don’t make the type of waves they may have made as a seasoned industry vet.
COVID-19 was a brick to the face we didn’t see coming, but if you dust yourself off and put your dukes up, you’ll live to fight another day.
Where do you plan to take 208 Management in the next five years?
In the next five years, I plan to be a full-service boutique agency.
Currently, being a mother agent makes the most sense as I build my credentials and industry contacts. I prefer to represent domestic and international without having to place models.
Being an agency of color, although bold, is not enough. There are a few definitive changes that I would like to make to the industry as a whole. A huge change for me is having models able to speak their minds without fear of retribution.
Additionally, finding some way to add mental health options and standard health benefits for models. Kudos to Elite Model Management for starting that process.
I don’t know if you saw the video @castedbyus posted on Instagram about mental health and models, but it is powerful. I have a snippet on our Instagram page for those who haven’t seen it. I have tagged the originators so you can see the original video.
Finally, I look forward to looking back at the previous four years and understanding how far the models I’ve signed and the agency have come.