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Wales Bonner AW18, Balenciaga AW18, Prada Menswear AW18, Gucci AW18

The Jamaican model agency bringing diversity to fashion’s biggest runways

Founded by Deiwght Peters in 2000, Saint International’s models have walked for Gucci, Balenciaga and Chanel

Fashion is further behind than it should be when it comes to diversity, but ongoing conversations around the topic are slowly but surely paying off. When it comes black models and their increased presence on the catwalk over the years, one person to thank is Deiwght Peters – founder of Jamaican agency Saint International.

In fact, his models are basically at every major runway show. During the recent AW18 womenswear shows, Saint faces walked in ChanelBalenciaga, Burberry, Jacquemus, Gucci, Coach, and Dries Van Noten – to name a few. And it isn’t just the girls – four of the agency’s boys walked in the last Wales Bonner show, with the designer writing a special shoutout in her show notes.

Founded in 2000, Peters’ agency is probably the world’s biggest go-to for black models – providing over 150 Jamaican faces to agencies all over the globe. His driving force is simple. “For me, it was always an appreciation for black skin. There is a lot of beauty in being black,” he says of what inspires him. “Coming from a small Caribbean island that is not really into fashion, it was really the idea of: ‘How do you position these faces in a way that is respected, applauded, appreciated, and they get to work with the best brands and casting directors in the world?’”

More than just an agent, Peters is like a father to the young faces under his care – most of whom have never left home, let alone Jamaica. “I am very protective of my models, so they sometimes call me ‘Pops’,” he explains. Eternally optimistic, the agent doesn’t believe fashion (currently feeling the heat after revelations of mistreatment by some of its biggest stars) is a lost cause. “It all comes to an end, no matter how powerful you think these people are,” he says. “That’s what we’re witnessing now. The industry has started to evolve – it is moving away from the abusive stereotype people used to ascribe to it.”

Here, we talk to Peters on founding the agency and increasing diversity within the industry.

How was Saint Models first founded?

Deiwght Peters: Saint started as a talent management company for musicians, but I didn’t have any background in it. Then back in 2001, one of the first televised model searches in the world was born which came about through a friend who was working for one of the top television stations in Jamaica. It was called the Faces Of Summer. During the summer months, we would go all across Jamaica and had cameras following us. It was groundbreaking because people had never seen this before, we were taking them right through the creative process of finding a new Jamaican model. It catapulted us to the forefront of the industry. People started showing respect and we started developing very close relationships with agents in all the major markets – even the more commercial ones in LA, in Miami, Chicago. I started learning and appreciating the creative dynamics of the industry; how the relationships work, the politics of it all.

What do you try to bring to the industry with your agency?

Deiwght Peters: Healthy, beautiful black girls and boys who definitely can represent an international brand at the highest level. It’s about really refining the eye, understanding the aesthetic of the global market, what the expectations are, and just respecting it. The market is much more democratic than it was before. You have wonderful, intelligent casting directors who are now understanding the demographics in a global space and what really will work.

“As black people I believe we are confident, powerful, strong, and beautiful and once you package that within the realm of being a model you can go very far” – Deiwght Peters 

What is your role during the season of shows?

Deiwght Peters: A lot of things! Just before the season begins, I make submissions and then you start getting feedback on who could be cast or optioned for the upcoming shows. It’s about getting everything organised and training the models before they go, how to be respectful and upbeat and positive about the experience. I work very closely with parents who trust me with their kids. I make sure everybody – the family and otherwise – are fully aware of what is expected. I’m very real so I don’t give too many false hopes or expectations. I’m not going to say to a model ‘Oh you’re booked’ from the start. It may be confirmed, it may not be confirmed. This process is new but they need to understand it, so I break it down in simple terms.

So a lot of your job is being their guardian, really?

Deiwght Peters: If they’re 17 or 18, to me they’re still young, especially if they are just starting out. I make sure all the appropriate paperwork is in order, making sure the correct authorisations are signed and that the visas are processed in a timely manner. Chaperoning them is definitely a key responsibility, making sure they eat on time – my Jamaican models love to eat. I don’t have a problem cooking sometimes because I just want to make sure it’s a healthy, positive experience all around.

Have you found it challenging getting recognition for your models in an industry that favours Eurocentric beauty ideals?

Deiwght Peters: It’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges, but what I believe is that it’s a matter of timing. Let’s take the girl who is now fronting Prada campaigns (Anok Yai), who was discovered on social media. She may have been thought as being too dark-skinned by some modelling agents, but now people can see her in a whole different space, the market is different. Over time things will evolve. Some clients I believe were just closed to what may have been a stereotype that they themselves developed about what a black model represented.

I always look to Naomi Campbell and Iman from a different perspective than most people. What I like is that there’s a substantive elegance that is consistent among all these black models that make it to the top. I believe it is of paramount importance that it is not about changing who you are, or your fundamental beliefs and cultural identity. As black people I believe we are confident, we are powerful, we are strong, we are beautiful and once you package that you can go very far as a model.

Do you think diversity in modelling has changed over the years?

Deiwght Peters: The new age of casting directors, whether it’s Ashley Brokaw, Piergiorgio Del Moro or Anita Bitton, have played a key role in opening the doors to diversity and having more diverse runways. The designers themselves who front international brands have recognised that the global market demographic is definitely changing, so they have to make sure that their casting for the runway is consistent with what is happening now.

I think one of the biggest changes has been social media and Instagram. Now, casting directors themselves are empowered, they are no longer limited by agents who might be limited in perspective, who may decide who they want to send to a casting director. Social media has democratised the casting process in that a casting director can go on Instagram and discover talent that an agent may not have fed to them because they may not represent that model in the respective market, or they may not necessarily think the model suits their ideal of the aesthetic they promote.

How do you try and protect your models from dangers within the industry?

Deiwght Peters: I am very open with models, I try to explain that the world is what it is, there are good people and there are bad people. It’s not about limiting it to being in modelling or fashion, it’s everywhere. I always say to them, do not sell yourself short. Do not let anyone tell you you have to do something to get something. We try to make sure the expectations are very high when it comes to integrity, I am very, very strong on that. You have to be on time, you have to be professional but I do not believe you have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, or that you do not wish to do. I manage the models and I manage the families – it’s important that the kids can report to their mums, their dads, their uncles, their grandfathers, and not to come back with ‘I was forced to do this, I was being pressured to do that’.

What have some of your highlights been over the years?

Deiwght Peters: One of my fondest experiences was when I took one of my first winners of the Faces of Summer contest to Paris. One agent said to us ‘We like the girl, we’re going to send you to meet Azzedine Alaïa.’ I didn’t realise how important he was in the world of fashion. It was the most amazing experience that I still cherish to this day, and I have a picture I took in the atelier with him measuring my model. He asked us if we had problems placing her with Paris agencies and said ‘I’ll send you to meet with Karin Models,’ because that’s where Naomi Campbell was at the time. In the end, that’s where we placed her. So that was one of my first relationships in Paris.  

A poignant moment for me over this last season was backstage at Balenciaga. I realised that one of my models had the World Food Programme motto ‘Saving lives, Changing lives’ on her back and I was blown because the tagline for Saint is ‘Changing lives, Expanding horizons’. On that day we were celebrating a record of eight models on such a prestigious runway so it was really a moment for me to just step back and say ‘Wow, this is incredible!’

How do you plan to continue growing the agency?

Deiwght Peters: People keep asking how I keep finding the models. For me, the main thing is our global brand, there are models who have been sending stuff on DM through Instagram and Facebook from Nigeria, Kenya, the US, England saying they have seen how well we have done in terms of black models. It’s about accessing more markets and giving more people an opportunity. There are several markets we’re looking at, more within the region of the Caribbean and definitely in Africa.

There are some challenges, in terms of making sure things work, understanding all of the immigration processes across the world. Whether we can get a visa easily, if not. What are the barriers? It’s important for me to be informed in immigration-related matters. I want to get into more territories and create more opportunities for these young people. For me, that’s what it’s all about.