Last year’s SS19 shows were the most diverse yet. Across the shows in New York City, London, Milan and Paris, 36.1% of models were of colour, compared to SS15’s feeble 17%. But still, last year’s statistic is nothing to write home about – lack of diversity is an issue which permeates throughout the industry, and Mumbai-based casting agency Feat. Artists are only too aware of this.
Set up in 2018 by friends Smita Lasrado, a model who was living in Paris at the time, and Nikhil Dudani, a creative director and stylist with 10-years experience in the fashion industry, the pair spoke at length about the lack of South Asian representation in the industry, having experienced it first-hand throughout their careers.
“We understood the need for a platform that would represent all the young, amazing talent in India of all genders, ethnicities, body types and ages,” they say. “Our country has so much diversity to offer, and creatives with amazing potential. We wanted an agency with talent and personality.”
Over the last two years, Feat. Artists has evolved into a full-service creative agency, representing, scouting and consulting creatives from photographs and stylists, to visual artists and a board of models. At the same time, the agency has worked with a growing number of brands and publications including one of this year’s LVMH winners Supriya Lele, while the agency’s models have walked for Rick Owens, Simone Rocha, Siers Marjan and Y/Project’s shows, as well as casting editorials in Vogue and GQ.
“We have consulted on so many projects for international brands and we realise how problematic it can be if they aren’t sensitive,” say Lasrado and Dudani. “When brands care to have a deeper outlook, it’s the best way forward.”
Research is at the core of the agency, Feat. Artists believes that it is a fundamental part of dismantling systemic racism. For them, it is key for brands to understand the wider context of what they do – who it is affecting, and what the connotations of various themes can be, which is why the pair offer consultancy services to bridge the gap for misrepresentation.
“An outsider’s view can be very limited depending on their exposure. When brands or magazine’s come to India, they celebrate things that might be interesting to them – the vibrancy or parts of its heritage, for example. But that may just reinforce and limit the representations of what makes this country what is,” they say.
Feat. Artists wants to create an honest representation of Indian faces and bodies. They are setting out to create strong narratives, with a diverse collective of talent, to reinvent the way we see ourselves.
“Our goal is to show the world that Indian talent is able to compete with creatives on an international level, and that we deserve the recognition,” say Lasrado and Dudani. “With the younger generation at the forefront, people are proud of their own voice, with evolved ideals and the ability to explore endless opportunities.”
If the last two years are anything to go by, Feat. Artists are determined to change the status quo in the fashion industry. Given the current political climate, these conversations are crucial. And perhaps with the help of this Mumbai agency, the 36.1% of POC models at fashion weeks could be increased to a number that we’ll be able to shout about.