strong is a game-changing new modelling agency
Here’s the low-down on the inclusive new project, according to its founders Madde Østlie and Jordan Vickors.
Photography: Christian Cody. Styling and Clothing: Nigel McKenzie.
Madde Østlie is a busy woman. When she’s not running operations at London’s AAMO -- the fashion casting company she founded with her pal Adwoa Aboah -- she’s out in the field, finding models for the likes of Charles Jeffrey, Burberry and Marc Jacobs. The Norway-born, London-raised expert, whose penchant for interesting faces had transformed her into one of the most respected young names in the industry, seems to be everybody’s go-to girl when street casting is involved. It’s no surprise she’s utilised that talent and transformed it into a creative project that reaches out and touches every major city in America too.
Enter STRONG, a new kind of talent agency that removes itself from conformist industry culture and champions the kids at its core instead. Announced earlier this week via a wild social media takeover, the group’s graphics flashing technicolour on every Insta-user of note’s feed, STRONG arrived with a bang and carried a cool air of industry excitement with it. The team behind it – one that also includes Stussy’s creative stalwart Jordan Vickors, booking directors Ricky Michels and Joseph Viola, and LV-adjacent art director Sosu – haven’t quite had the time to process it since.
Casting agencies have always been necessary components of the fashion world and serve a valid purpose, but what Madde and her team are proposing with STRONG is that the industry thrives by allowing its faces to roam free: to step outside of the fashion box and touch on other cultures too. By venturing to cities the fashion world has failed to explore in-depth -- places like Atlanta and Philadelphia to name just two -- they’re opening the doors for more young models, and particularly models of colour, to have their faces seen and voices heard.
We finally tracked down Madde and Jordan on a New York afternoon. Here, accompanied by some new STRONG imagery debuting exclusively on i-D, the duo breaks down the birth of the agency, its higher purpose, and the international team of talents who are bringing it all together.
STRONG was born one day last summer
"When I did the casting for BSTROY in the summer of 2018, I realised just how many incredible kids in NYC were not represented by any agency. The name, logo and everything else for STRONG was conceived in a two hour window on the 17th of July, as a helicopter was circling above me, being incredibly loud and [forcing] my mind into overdrive. I also knew then that I wanted to launch the agency, [announcing it] with an amazing GIF that everyone posted at the same time, turning it into a whole Instastory takeover!" - Madde
“I remember Madde calling me up, shouting ‘Babe, babe, babe! I’ve got this idea, we’ll call it STRONG and we’re gonna represent all of these amazing kids!’. It was back when she cast the Bstroy show and she was super excited about it. Madde and I had been looking for an opportunity to work on something together for a while, and I’m in this space right now where, working over at Stussy and casting things for a few years now, I’ve met a lot of amazing people. It felt like the perfect time to work together on this. I was 100% on board; Sosu, who does the art direction, was already on board. So we started patching the team together.” – Jordan
They're throwing out the old agency format, and putting their “kids” first
“We want to have an inclusive and flexible approach, so we only take 20% commission and nothing on jobs under $200. The models themselves will invoice directly. We have contracts that allow models to leave when they want, they don't have to stay with us for a fixed period of time. Being accessible and flexible is essential; STRONG acts as a platform that's there for the kids.” - Madde
A strong signee? Multifaceted and ambitious
“They should have a point of difference to their look: natural style and a good ‘Gram along with other interests -- we want to promote talent that have other stuff going on and don't just want to be a model. To support that, the site links through to their Instagram, Soundcloud or personal website too.” -- Madde
“Someone needs to look really interesting, but they also have to be a really amazing person. If they have a certain vibe and they have a cool look about them, then they’re right for us, you know? The second half comes when we see the inside of them, and help make sense of the person that they are. Personally, I look for a diamond in the rough. Something that I find that feels special about them; how they carry themselves.” – Jordan
It exists to lift up the kids of America
“STRONG is here as a means of visibility for the kids across cities in America; that's really what we want the difference to be. So many incredible kids out there just don't have the means to access or be seen by the fashion world, including the commercial clients and creatives. This is for them more than anyone. Ideally, at some point I want to add in Baltimore and Detroit too, but I need to finance going there to cast. At the moment, I have personally financed the whole company, the site and the launch.” - Madde
They're proudly switching up the culture in 2019
“We're providing opportunity through visibility, and showing everyone that kids in cities across the States are valuable assets. We want to engage with our signed kids and show what assets can be brought to the table by those you represent. Also, I want to show that being kind is cool.” - Madde
And have redefined the new generation
“This is for the kids that apply themselves and want to be part of fashion because they are creatives too. As a platform, we want to engage in a new way that encourages the kids to feel like they are part of STRONG. We are encouraging them to make videos, moving imagery and pictures for themselves and the site, building their own experience and pushing creativity. We want them to feel like they're in control, not just being sent places by an agent. One of my best boys, Antoine Manning from Atlanta, put it so beautifully (I cried!) when he posted the launch on his Instagram: ‘This is for us,’ he said.” - Madde