Ben Barry is the founder of Ben Barry Agency, the world’s first modelling agency that specifically represents “non-traditional” models – outside the scope of the fashion world’s stereotypes. Find out more about this award-winning YE in today’s feature.
Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.
Ben Barry Agency is the first modelling agency in the world to represent models of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities for fashion and beauty. We scout and source all our models, and our clients include companies like Sears, Walmart, Holt Renfrew, VAWK, and The Bay.
Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
I started when I was a teenager, grade 9 actually. I had a friend who wanted to model, but she was told she was too big – she was a dress size 12. All agencies wanted her to be a size 2. I told her I would help her out, so I took some pictures and sent them off to a local magazine in Ottawa, with a note saying that I thought ‘this model’ should be in the publication. A few weeks later I got a call from the fashion editor who wanted to hire her, and it was assumed I was her agent. I was in grade 9 with no business plan or anything, but I set up an ‘office’ and went from there.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part is the people, being able to work with so many different kinds of amazing people is great. And business strategy through to the creative side, they make my work inspiring. Of course the models we work with, because we work with women outside of the traditional beauty standards; it takes confidence for them to break down the stereotypes of beauty.
The most challenging? Convincing this industry to include diversity. There’s a stereotype, nine times out of 10, of a tall, white, thin, young woman; it’s dramatically different from the majority of consumers. Working to convince the industry there is a business rationale is hard, and that’s why I decided to work towards my PhD, to help provide more context towards women increasing purchases based on relatable representations. What I’ll be able to publish from this study is empirical academic information.
Where do you see your business going in 5 years?
The hope is in five years we’ll start to play a larger role internationally. Right now we’ve made a big mark in Canada, but the hope is to play a bigger role in places like the UK.
What does success look like to you?
For an individual, it’s to be able to have the luxury to have balance – a job you love, the opportunity to structure life in a way that’s helpful for you. To be able to create a career and life that has balance.
For business, it’s about creating a product that will change the world in some way, and for the better. Everytime we have a curvy or mature model on the runway, that’s making a difference.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Two years ago, I won an award called the Governor General Award in Commemoration of the Person’s Case. It’s an award given to people advancing the quality of life for girls and women. I was the first man it was ever given to. It’s a huge honour to have my work recognized on that level. To show that fashion has the potential to be a vehicle for celebration of who people are. Fashion plays a powerful role on everyone, but it can be used really positively.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Pick a career you love. So many people end up in careers they feel they should be in, but be able to listen to yourself. If something about your career doesn’t feel right, have the confidence to change it. Be able to listen yourself to try something else to make you happy.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I support lots of charities, but in the industry I’m in I support TFI [Toronto Fashion Incubator]. It’s a not-for-profit organization that helps young fashion entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. It’s an incredible resource that provides strong industry-specific knowledge and contacts. Fashion can often be seen as an exclusive industry, but the TFI helps provide a starting point.
I also support Sheena’s Place. It’s a centre for body image and eating disorders. What’s great about it is it doesn’t take a medical stance when looking at body image. They see it as a day-to-day issue, not just at one end of the spectrum. Body image is something affects people at different stages, and Sheena’s Place has great programs to help get to the root of people’s issues.
What is Notable to you?
Being able to be critical. When someone can be critical – when they don’t just accept something at face value; when they can, in a respective way, take it apart – they can grow and move forward.
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