The UK’s First
Since launching in early 2017, Zebedee Management has become the UK’s first modelling agency to exclusively represent people with physical and learning disabilities. With clients including luxury womenswear brand Teatum Jones and popular high-street stores like River Island and H&M, they are fast proving that diverse casting is the future.
Founded by sisters-in-law Zoe Proctor and Laura Johnson from Sheffield, the idea for their agency arose during a discussion about the severe lack of opportunities for people with disabilities. According to the pair, it was truly “a light bulb moment” while out walking their dogs.
In reality, this shared desire to champion diversity was by no means a spur of the moment decision, rather it was a culmination of years working in parallel industries; where Laura is a qualified social worker with a wealth of experience working with vulnerable adults and children, Zoe is a performing arts teacher specialising in teaching people with disabilities.
“It seemed like a natural collaboration to set up an organisation representing children and adults with disabilities” with the ultimate goal of bringing them into “an industry where they were just not represented.”
However, Zebedee are mindful of the criticisms surrounding fashion brands who use diversity in a tokenistic way or simply to garner instant publicity. “We have a duty of care towards all of our models”, they maintain, “so it’s of paramount importance that any photoshoot or campaign echoes that responsibility.”
Whenever Zebedee models are featured in a campaign, the team will ensure the inclusive message is delivered with authenticity. In practice this involves taking extra time to work closely with clients, artists, parents and carers to guarantee every model is being treated respectfully and fairly. “We help build their confidence so that they can shine like the stars they are destined to be, and in getting to know each model we are better placed to match them to assignments”, they add.
Zebedee’s recent involvement with the River Island ‘Labels are for Clothes’ campaign saw six of their young models become new faces of the established high street brand. “The models had a ball taking part in the River Island campaign! It was great fun, wearing fabulous clothes and the River Island Team were brilliant. Whilst it was an exciting shoot, our models are always professional and take their assignments very seriously but without doubt the fun shone through in the images.”
In a bid to embrace diversity, River Island announced the campaign was “a celebration of people who reject stereotypes and champion self-expression.” They also partnered with leading international anti-bullying charity Ditch The Label to spread this vital message that “labels are for clothes, not kids.”
However, Zebedee believe that the campaign, “is not only a positive step by River Island from an overall business perspective, but it is also educationally and socially responsible. We hope that the clients we collaborate with and the great work our models do, will eventually have a wider impact on society. The “River Islands” are growing but it’s early days.”
Last month, it was announced that River Island’s latest campaign #ThisIsFamily would feature 6-year old Sadie, a Zebedee model with Cerebral Palsy, alongside her siblings to celebrate the individuality and diversity of modern families.
But what do Zebedee want to see in the future with regards to diverse casting in fashion? “The fashion industry will truly achieve diversity when advertising campaigns featuring people with a wide spectrum of disabilities and differences become the norm.” Both want to see that the “industry has re-evaluated what is truly beautiful, and that it’s nothing to do with how many legs you have or what condition you were born with. We’re just starting to see change; however, some organisations just aren’t there yet. With our help and our fabulous models, change is coming and we know it will make for a better, kinder world.”