Beauty and Talent – this agency offers it all

Gavin Miller, Founder and Director of Contact Model and Talent Management

By Editor

The world of modelling and model agencies is a highly competitive one – there are plenty of others wanting to make it in the industry both domestically and, of course, internationally. And, with the majority of the really big fashion houses located in the USA and Europe, Cape Town may seem an unlikely location for a model agency to be the agency of choice for international fashion brands and their advertising agencies. Yet, the city has in fact managed to carve a niche for itself as a destination highly attractive for modelling shoots.

The local industry is thriving. “A big part of the success I’ve achieved with my agency,” explains Gavin Miller, the founder and Director of Contact Model and Talent Management, “is the relationships I’ve nurtured and maintained over many years. These strong relationships help bring clients to me, and they are certainly the reason that my agency was able to get going after we experienced a total shutdown during the Covid pandemic. Once people were able to travel again, I contacted the people I knew at the fashion houses and in the agencies overseas to let them know that Contact Agency was up and running, and ready to pick up where we’d left off many months beforehand.” 

The pandemic was a killer in terms of the modelling industry – largely owing to travel bans and the rules against close contact – and many of the agencies did not survive. So, Gavin’s story is truly an inspiring one.

As a teenager, Gavin had one goal for the future: to follow a career in the advertising world. And armed with an advertising qualification, that’s exactly what he set out to do. He thought that his dream had come true when he landed a plum position with Ogilvy Cape Town, joining the leading advertising agency in the country. While Gavin is thankful for the opportunities this position gave him – in particular being mentored by Mike Abel (now CEO of M&C Saatchi Abel), who is known to nurture younger people in the industry – he soon found the corporate culture in an agency of this size unappealing.

A major part of Gavin’s role at Ogilvy involved working with modelling agencies. Although he knew little about this industry and would not have imagined that this was a sector he’d one day find himself in, he learned a great deal about the world of modelling and talent identification, especially from his role in identifying talent for M-Net’s Face of Africa competition. This set him up for his move into the world of model and talent management – first as the men’s director at Storm Models and ultimately by establishing his own business. 

“The most important learning I’ve had from the years I’ve been active in the world of work,” he says, “is that one must always look out for opportunities and not be afraid to respond to those opportunities. This has shaped me in my own career in a number of ways, most notably in terms of the founding of my business: I hadn’t ever set out to own a modelling agency, but then I realised that I could do the same work I was doing as an employee but do it for my own benefit. I certainly wouldn’t have what I have today if I hadn’t spotted the opportunity and trusted myself to go off and make it happen.”

Again, relationships formed previously served to get Gavin’s agency off the ground. When he first started out, it was just him and a former colleague, two computers and two desks. “We obviously had to bring in some business by acquiring clients, so that’s when I started calling people I knew from my previous work, letting them know that I’d gone off on my own,” Gavin recalls. And so the business got off the ground – and it’s done well over the 11 years of its existence, despite the devastation wrought by Covid. 

With the majority of Gavin’s clients being international agencies, it’s been crucial to keep in touch with international trends so that he is able to offer appropriate models to particular clients. In the pre-Covid period, the trend was to hire models who were very thin and grungy-looking. “That has changed quite dramatically,” he explains. “Today, business is looking for healthy-looking people, and for a wider representation of society. So, for instance, models with disabilities have a far greater chance of getting work now.” 

The structure of serving international clients with local models works well. American agencies particularly like to engage firms in South Africa because the industry here is not unionised. They pay local talent very well, but it remains attractive for the American firms since the pay rates are lower than in America. 

For Gavin, Cape Town offers many benefits for any firm looking to do a shoot with models. With a wide range of models available, crews offering work at international standards, and some incredible locations, this is a city with plenty to offer the modelling world.

Photography by: Contact Model Management

• Published in the April 2024 issue – Click here to start reading.

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