Agent Inc., a modeling platform that finally puts the models on top

Former model Frida Farrell, who was the victim of sex trafficking, says how important it is to have a platform like Agent Inc. for the models to feel safe, and in charge.

Agent Inc., a modeling platform that finally puts the models on top

For most of us, modeling is one of, if not the most, glamorous jobs out there, but as it turns out, it is also one of the industries where the employees aka the models are most exploited. From being underpaid, falsely represented and being excluded from the decisions that would impact their career, the models are treated unfairly despite being the face of the industry. This is where Agent Inc. comes in.  

This app will finally put models and their needs on top while making it easier and hassle-free for those looking to hire said models as well. Mark Willingham, the CEO of Agent Inc, tells Meaww the tale of how his business partner Justin Diaz’s search for models resulted in the creation of the app. A whiz and semi-professional photographer, Dustin Diaz was looking for models for a shoot and ran into every hurdle he possibly could and thus began the road to Agent Inc.  

Willingham narrates how, having never hired models before, Diaz reached out to an agency called Model Mayhem, which “ended up being really mayhem. It got really crazy.” Half the models he tried booking denied the job and those that did show up did not have a working credit card, which proved to be difficult during payment. “He had to go to an ATM to get cash, and then none of them had change. This must be what it is like for 1000s or people who book models every day. One of the models didn't even have change for him when he paid them and asked if he could pay him the change back with marijuana,” he continues. “He tried to hire 20 models. It's not a huge sample size but for 50% of them to have these issues was troublesome. He, being a technologist, said ‘Wow. Something has to be done to fix this issue. I think I can use technology to help raise importance to what's going on,’” relates Willingham, who has seen similar instances up-close, having worked in the fashion industry for 11 years.  

CEO Mark Willingham hopes that Agent Inc. will revolutionize the fashion industry by keeping the models safe and happy, while the clients have the easiest mode for finding the model for the job.
CEO Mark Willingham hopes that Agent Inc. will revolutionize the fashion industry by keeping the models safe and happy, while the clients have the easiest mode for finding the model for the job.

"I spent 11 years as the president in the northern hemisphere for a Brazilian fashion brand and we have 515 retail stores across 18 countries. So, we had worked with models closely. My experience was very similar to Justin's experience in a lot of ways. We hired all models through agencies. We tended to find this to be a difficult process involving multiple steps," says Willingham, explaining how reaching out to local agencies, them showing pictures of models that fit the companies' demands, agencies checking with the models and interested models circling back after checking their schedule and availability can be a long and tedious process. "It was painful," he says.  

On the other hand, a lot of models don't trust their own industry. They are skeptical about their own agents, because they are oftentimes blindsided, lied to and taken advantage of. In terms of pay, it oftentimes gets delayed, even up to 30 days after their job is completed.  Moreover, he says, "it is not uncommon for agents to book models for one rate and tell them a completely different rate. I have seen this first hand, where we would book models for jobs and someone on the marketing team would tell me there is a problem because the model at the job asked how much we were paying the agency for hiring them. So, they say they are paying the agency, say, $800 and the model is like, I am only getting paid $400 and they get really upset. Model wants to get to the bottom of this and we want to finish our job."

It is in recognizing all these issues within the industry that led Willingham and his associates to creating Agent. They started from scratch, assuming that the modeling industry does not exist, but based on all the data they knew. He elaborates, "We decided to put the models back into the center of the industry which only exist because of them in the first place. When you sign on to an agent at the moment, it is almost like signing your rights and your power away and you wait on the side for someone to book you. 'Let us give them power and control over the money they demand and the jobs they want. Let us take away contracts. Let us pay them on the same day,' is the thought that is at the core of Agent. These are people who followed their dream and passion and have a strong desire to succeed, why are they pushed to the side in an industry that only exists because of them?" 

Screenshot of Agent Inc website.
Screenshot of Agent Inc website.

As for the clients, they are vetted and thorough background and sex offender checks and id verifications are done to ensure that they are, in fact, who they say they are. This way, the models know the safest options available to them and when they get booked for a job, everything is fully transparent. 

Frida Farrell, who was a victim of sex trafficking while working as a 22-year-old model tells Meaww, how she is ecstatic to hear about this app. 16 years after her horrific experience, Farrell has an inspiring film that is the product of her trauma and terror, called 'Apartment 407.' In the movie, Isobel, a young mother whose character is loosely based on Farrell, meets a charming stranger, who offers her a modeling assignment for which she walks into Apartment 407 in a rather forlorn building. It is from here that she is kidnapped and sold into the sex trade.

She speaks of her own experiences in the industry, Farrell says, "That’s exactly what [models] need because they are so vulnerable. They literally get — I am speaking this from experience — a piece of paper with a bunch of addresses, so you have to go to every single one of them. And many of these can be people’s homes and hotel rooms, and other weird places you would never go to on your own or normally to meet a stranger. But then you think ‘Oh because it’s here and the model agency has given it to me it should be safe, you don’t even think twice about it’ but you should think twice about it because you don’t know who calls you up. The model agency don’t do checks on the people that they are trying to hire, they think that it’s the job and the money is good, so they just send a random person. So this is fantastic. Best news ever."

A still from Frida Farrell's film Apartment 407, formerly released as 'Selling Isobel'
A still from Frida Farrell's film Apartment 407, formerly released as 'Selling Isobel'

Willingham also believes that Agent can actually permanently fix the industry rather than put band-aids to the problem. "We can make the clients happier because they are going to find great models who are happy, who feel secure, who feel safe and motivated. And, we have got models, who for the first time, feel like they are in charge of their careers and someone has their back," says Willingham.

"We let the models decide their fee. We don't tell them what they need to charge and we don't go out and negotiate for them, which may prevent them from getting a lot of jobs," says Willingham, who reveals that traditional agents oftentimes negotiate on behalf of their clients and complicate things by demanding more money than what the models are okay with, and end up losing the job altogether. They also charge 20% to the models for booking, whereas Agent Inc charges 10% which will be charged after the job is completed and they have been paid, with no additional cost to be on the platform. 

Money and safety are at the forefront of the issues Angent Inc tackle, while moral policing has no place in the platform. There are many models that do nude photoshoots and appear on magazines like Playboy and there are those who don't like to do those. Everyone has got their own standards of what they want. However, requests for models to "show up and be beautiful and talk to the guests" at private events are denied, because Agent Inc. only wants to be associated with real, professional modelling jobs.  "It should be photoshoots or runway jobs or commercial modelling for a trade show or a company.  

While the fashion industry deserved an open and safe space from the very beginning. Agent Inc, seems to fit in perfectly in the #metoo era. One can only hope that it changes things for the better.