By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
The fashion industry is undoubtedly anchored by photographers and models. Here are some with Birmingham connections:
“We make visions come to life” for models, artists, and designers, said Scarbrough, 26, who started Epic Empire Media in Birmingham in 2013. “If it weren’t for photography, you wouldn’t have a wide enough medium to support the fashion industry. Photography allows the world to see the designers’ creations.”
Scarbrough is multifaceted, merging his skills as a graphic artist and photographer: “All my life. I’ve been an artist. I got into photography once I figured out how to merge art into my editorials. I see the whole set as my canvas. My eye picks up every intricate detail in the photo, and nothing is by mistake.”
Fashion shows are happening everywhere, inspiring up-and-coming creatives to get up and get out there because there’s an industry to support them, he said. As for Birmingham’s fashion industry, it’s still evolving.
“We’re in a much better place than we’ve ever been,” he said. “Birmingham is still growing, and we’re on the right track.”
Artist TeeJ—photographer, videographer, visual artist, and founder of the Living ProoF series—gives aspiring models a professional outlet through which they can develop and promote their craft, as well as a platform where they can learn how to pose, walk, and create a professional portfolio without industry rates.
“A lot of the models here will tell you I did their very first photo shoots,” he said. “I take pride in that because I’ve put some models in a position to get paid for their work when they would have otherwise done it for absolutely free.”
The Birmingham fashion industry is taking a turn for the better, Artist TeeJ said.
“Stylists are emerging, and it seems there is more of a collaborative effort,” he said. “It could be a lot better for sure, but there’s a noticeable difference from a few years ago.”
In addition, he said, the industry seems to evolve more with each passing season: “More models are taking their craft seriously, and more photographers are coming out. I’d like to think I influenced the wave.”
Artist TeeJ says his entire being is creative.
“I’m a walking idea. I have a lot of creative thoughts, and I’ve learned how to make a living bringing them to life. Nobody does what I do quite like I do it. I’m the only person that performs songs at fashion shows and is also booked as the photographer.”
Artist TeeJ said he’d like his company to be a gateway that enables models to move on to bigger agencies.
“I’d like to have the power to really put models in a position to make a living,” he said. “If you create here in Birmingham, you have to work 10 times harder. That’s kind of also the beauty of it. Here, the market isn’t saturated, [like it is in other cities]. You can put in some effort, have a good product, and instantly make an impact. You can’t do that everywhere.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Humphrey said ambition led her to a Wilhelmina Models contact: “You’ve got to have the guts it takes to truly chase your dreams.”
From the outset of her modeling career, Humphrey had been working toward a contract with the world-renowned agency—and her work for high-end designer Alex Vinash during New York Fashion Week got her noticed.
“I got an invitation from [New York-based creative designer] Alex Vinash, who informed me about an invitation-only open call Wilhemina was having,” Humphrey said. “But I had to submit my portfolio before I could be asked to come for the in-person audition.”
Humphrey said she submitted a portfolio she had been building with Birmingham photographer Artist TeeJ, and their impressive work together proved her editorial capabilities.
“After that, they called me back and asked me to come to New York for the monologue and walk test,” she said. “They loved my monologue and walk, and they signed me.”
Humphrey said Birmingham’s modeling industry has been stagnant.
“There has not been a constant flow of work for models, and the culture is not embraced as much as it should be or as much as it is in other cities,” she said. “The market is smaller with fewer people working as a collective. Perhaps if the fashion community came together and decided on a collective endeavor, the industry could progress. I think that if we were all on one accord, we really could get things done.”
Humphrey walked in the Alex Vinash fashion show during New York Fashion Week 2016, as well as the Uptown Fashion Week.
“God, sweat and tears got me there,” she said.
After 12 years in the industry, Jasele—a fashion, print, and runway model—understands the essence of the model’s job: “A model represents a culture and an identity. We are the bridge between a visionary and their target audience.”
Jasele, 28, said Birmingham’s fashion scene was nearly devoid of African-Americans when she began, despite blacks being the city’s majority, “however, that is changing as the city evolves.”
Her desire is to “not only help the next generation achieve their goals but also make the process easier than it’s been in the past.”
“Aspiring models need the necessary education to succeed within this industry, and I am going to help as much as possible, as well,” Jasele said. “There is so much great talent in the city. Now, all that is needed are enough opportunities to showcase it.”
Jasele, who has walked for several designers, including Christian Siriano, Rebecca Minkoff, and even Nicci Hou, said her career has even led to a fashion show on VH1’s Single Ladies.
Brittney S. Clark
Clark, 28, is among the local models who believe the Magic City’s modeling scene still needs direction.
“We are slowly building a community in Birmingham, and the main goal is to raise awareness for our fashion industry as a whole by showing that there is talent in city,” she said. “We need more collaborations with local designers and boutiques to help [reveal] our talents to larger audiences.”
Clark, who got her first modeling job as an adolescent for preteen fashion retailer Limited Too, said success can be determined by how much research you put in.
“As a model, it’s important that you research the industry. I tend to research more than others, … [and that has contributed to the success I’ve had during] my journey as a model.
In fact, Clark’s research led her all the way to New York Fashion Week: “I saw a model call for Couture Fashion Week, which is a part of NYFW, and flew up to audition. There were close to 300 applicants, and only 100 were chosen. I was almost late because of a flight delay, so I was the last to audition—and I was hired on the spot.”
Clark, who also has walked for globally-known couture designers Corey Tran of Vietnam and Diane Mahrah of New York, says she never follows trends and always creates her own path: “I stay in my lane and make sure I choose a market that is in my best interest.”