Eager to shift the face and politics of fashion, Campbell Addy is bringing the fringe to the forefront with Nii Agency
This feature is part of a series on menswear and men’s style that we are running to coincide with the men’s shows in London, Florence, Milan and Paris. Stay up to date with our latest posts here.
As the age old debate surrounding tradition vs. inclusivity persists, a new wave of fashion creatives are effecting change. Insert London-based photographer, publisher, and Central Saint Martins student, Campbell Addy. Rebelling against the fray, Addy has launched a modelling and casting agency called Nii that aims to celebrate burgeoning talents beyond their appearance.
“Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean skin tone,” he says. “These guys are more than just models. I’m trying to get more personalised. A lot of them do music, art, photography. It’s more than just getting them modelling jobs. They have different talents. Get to know these boys as more than just faces. I want to see people first.”
While still fairly new, the roster of off-kilter models has already piqued the interest of cast-offs and industry heavy-hitters alike. An eclectic range of looks, ages, body types, and backgrounds don’t hurt either. Instead of being a niche agency, Addy emphasises the fact that his models are real people not perfect Adonises. With the battle for equal visibility for all waging on, could more influencers adopting this attitude incite long overdue change? Here, we chat with founder Campbell Addy on reshaping the narrative around representation and what’s to come for the Nii Agency.
Tell us about the journey to creating the agency.
Campbell Addy: I was on my year out from Central Saint Martins and people kept commenting on my casting ability. I’d often street cast models for my own shoots and, one time, I emailed Jason Evans in order to assist him. Though he didn’t need any assistance, he looked through my work just to give me a few pointers and told me my casting was really strong so I thought maybe this is an avenue I can go down. This is when I truly began to think of casting as another way to express my ideas. I started shooting more and getting more clients – I’d often shoot people I’d find on the street, not necessarily signed models. Then I told one of the models I shot, an albino guy, that he’d be really great for a certain agency. However, when he emailed them and went to see them, they said they “have one of him already.” I was really shocked; it wasn’t a major agency but still, for them to respond in that way…
Wow. That’s disgusting and surprising, but at the same time when thinking of the politics and status quo within the fashion industry, it isn’t – which is even more disheartening.
Campbell Addy: Exactly, because that’s how I felt. I was like, you know what, I’m going to start my own (agency). So I’ve returned back to do my final year at uni, that’s what I endeavour to do alongside the magazine.
What have been some of the most prominent highs and lows since launching?
Campbell Addy: It’s been hard. Obviously, starting an agency is a big task money-wise. The high is actually seeing it now online and people actually interested in it. The lows are doubting yourself. There are so many talented and interesting people out there and we’re just starting off. So for people to trust us and want to come on board is amazing. The hardest thing is the money. I fund everything myself so I made a plan. I said I’m going to pull all my resources from the commercial work I’ve been doing to the remainder of my student loans, and put all of it into the agency. I did a lot of commercial work for Urban Outfitters and Korean brands which really helped in funding Nii Agency. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it properly. I don’t want this to just be a student project or seen as such. It was hard because I wanted to do so much with it but realistically funds are an issue.
The creative struggle. Regardless of the medium, that’s so relatable. Having the funds and accessibility to create your vision.
Campbell Addy: Yeah, no matter where you are. My friends in New York have the same issue. Just to have the funds to do what you want to do.
The agency has gained a lot of momentum in a short period. How would you like to see the industry change in years to come, with respect to men’s fashion?
Campbell Addy: A lot of the boys were working before it even went live. There’s a need for it. There’s so many more boys on our roster who’ve yet to go up. I would like the industry to not be so, I use this term loosely, clickbait. We live in the digital age. There’s Instagram, Tumblr, everything is so accessible. Because it’s so accessible it’s sort of easily forgotten. Having longevity is quite a hard thing in this day and age. And then it’s onto the next one, especially in terms of diversity. Right now, it’s cool to have a black boy or an Asian boy. Lots of agencies are looking to diversify their books, but it shouldn’t be because they need to do it. It should be because they want to do it. It shouldn’t be such a tabboo to use someone of a darker skin tone.
Many people feel fashion is having a moment, though, it feels rather disingenuous. Like, oh, this is hip right now. And even then, it’s typically someone who is very Eurocentric looking, who only slightly veers from what the fashion industry considers normal.
Campbell Addy: Exactly. There’s such a diverse range of black women, black boys, Asian boys that are not being tapped into. Especially in London, in the younger fashion scene, outsiders looking in think it’s cool and quirky, whereas in reality that’s just how they live their lives. We react to our environment. Going outside of that bubble, you realise how malignant the industry can be. Someone said, “Why do you have to have black people in your show?” You don’t have to have black people in your fashion show, but if you are going to do a collection based around things that are obviously Asian or black, it doesn’t make sense to not have that race present. That’s just my opinion. It’s effortless.
The word ‘diversity’ is becoming a broken record, but for lack of a better term, what do you think needs to happen to see genuine diversity in fashion?
Campbell Addy: It is. For it to be genuine, I think it has to come from a place of want. A lot of the diverse models are used, which is great, but if some of them didn’t have a great social media following, would they be used? If they were just walking down the street, would you look at them twice? It’ll be little things like that. Say I’m designing my own show, it’s something that should naturally come to mind.
I’ve been on shoots before and I’ve been so naïve to think, “Oh, that’s not a model.” No, it is a model. When you see the images they take, they bring such a great presence to the image. A really great example, the recent Arena Homme Plus cover shot by David Sims. One of the guys in the photo was an intern. It’s that sort of mentality I really like. When I think of diversity and what I want it to mean, it’s not just race, but also shape, size, able-bodied, disabled, age, looks.
Beyond colour, so many types of people remain grossly underrepresented.
Campbell Addy: Yes, I have a deaf model we’ve just casted. He’s really good. And he’d gone to agencies a couple years ago, but because he’s deaf they didn’t want to sign or shoot with him. They thought it would be too difficult. I’m like, just so long as we have eye contact. In terms of measurements, he’s the perfect model. Each of them, I try to find out what they do besides modelling. He’s a musician, he’s an illustrator. We’re all people and I like whoever shoots them to get to know them as well. I’m trying to give them more of a platform as opposed to just being a model.
What’s one of the greatest lessons founding your own agency has taught you?
Campbell Addy: Just go for it. I’m 23. If I fail, I’ll still be 23. It’s fine. You can sit there saying what if, what if and have regrets the rest of your life, or you can try things and fail. You won’t necessarily fail, but you’ll learn and move on. It’s the first thing I’ve ever done in my life that I’m doing off of my own back. I have no prior experience in it. I have not worked for an agency. I’ve just been shooting boys for a year and a half. My gut was like just go for it. It can all blow up in six months and fail but I’ve done it and I’ve learned from it. It’s that fear we have in the industry that someone else has already done it, or that we don’t have the means to accomplish it, especially where I’m from. I’d rather do it for me, by me, for the people. It’s just a leap of faith. You never know.