Trinidad and Tobago native, Shaw Bernard, is a former model with 20 years in the fashion industry. Now she is the founder of STRUT Models who is working hard to advocate for diversity and inclusion. Bernard strives to make sure that the models can avoid some of the pitfalls she faced during her career.
Bernard opened up about past experiences as a model, how the industry has evolved, and where it’s headed.
How have you seen the modeling industry evolve over the years?
Well, there’s definitely been evolution, for sure. Certainly, we haven’t reached the pinnacle but when I was modeling or when I started, there definitely weren’t a lot of Black models. It really was at the time when the Black model was essentially erased from the catwalk. If people are inclined to learn more, I think watching the documentary by Marcellus, on the Black supermodels on Vogue, is like a fabulous six-part series that really highlights that transition from the heyday of the Black model to it going dark, and there were no Black models being represented. Then it comes back to being just kind of like one at a time and now we’re in this era of diversity. But obviously, our main mission is to highlight diversity and inclusivity and it’s not even just on the runway. I think the more powerful conversation that needs to happen is organizational. What happens inside an agency and who are the people running it? It’s cool, cute, and nice to put Black faces on the runway or on a campaign ad just to use it as a marketing ploy but when you think about the people that are instrumental in making those decisions, it does also need to be people that look like us.
What makes Strut Models stand out from other modeling agencies?
I think it just really starts with the fact that I’m the owner. Just setting the tone and staying firm throughout my journey, especially since we transitioned two years ago into the full-service booking space, there have been many challenges. I have to always go back and remember why I started and why I’m doing this because there is pressure. I wouldn’t even say temptation, I think the better word is really pressure. There’s a lot of pressure to be liked and the comparisons of well, “this agency is doing that or that agency is doing another,” and I’m like, “STRUT Models is very different.” We can’t operate the same way other agencies do. So, even having conversations like this, traditionally and typically, you wouldn’t interview the owner of an agency. A lot of people don’t even know who they are and how they’re funded. But STRUT Models is 100%, Black-owned and female; we operate so differently. A lot of it stems from my values, my morals, and the things that I experienced as a model.