By: Janelle Sessoms
Inclusivity. It’s a word that has floated around the fashion industry for years. It’s a word that we all constantly see, hear, and read everywhere we go. It’s something that has always been important, but never the priority— until now. Most fashion brands, designers, and modeling agencies are now trying to be more transparently inclusive. But, there are some people out there who have always known the importance of being inclusive and representing those who are rarely represented. Enter Slay Model Management.
A premier management company that represents transgender model talent, Slay Model Management has always been ahead of the game and continues to be. Founder and director Cecilio Asuncion saw there was a clear need for a space for trans models where they can thrive while doing the thing they love. Slay Model Management shows the world that trans is beautiful, and trans models are just as talented, passionate, and driven as any other cisgender model.
Slay models have appeared in the pages of Vogue Italia, Pump Magazine, Oprah Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam, and Bride Vogue, to name a few, and have walked the runways of multiple fashion shows. Slay model Mimi Tao was the first trans model to be featured on the beloved TV show “Project Runway.”
In an interview with New Face Magazine, Cecilio Asuncion talks about the purpose and impact of Slay Model Management and where he hopes to see Slay Model Management in the future.
At what point was it clear that you/your team needed to create Slay Model Management?
Slay Model Management opened in 2016. I had just finished shooting my documentary, “What’s the T?” and I had been exposed to the Trans* community. Employment truly was, and still is, one of the biggest issues the community goes through. I grew up with Supermodels, and space was necessary to create a place for Trans women and men to be seen as beautiful and to make a living out of it as a possibility.
What impact have you seen Slay Model Management have in the modeling industry already?
Our agency has done a lot of “firsts,” such as the first Trans model on the cover of the Spiegel catalog, the first Trans model on “Project Runway,” and the first all Trans cast of a reality show called “Strut.” I have models who I have signed now, who had seen those firsts, and it had given them hope to see themselves as part of the fashion landscape.
It’s no secret that while there has been much improvement in the fashion industry for better inclusive initiatives, there is still a lot of work to be done. What influence do you hope Slay Model Management will have on the future of the modeling world?
Truly the education that the Trans community is employable, beautiful, and should not be based on quantifying one’s gender. The conversation needs to be ongoing and space of kindness and understanding. The legacy I hope to leave behind is that there was a space we created for the community to be seen and taken seriously as a working model.
When scouting for models, what are the qualities that are actively looked for and stand out the most?
We are a very diverse agency, and I am proud of that, as our diversity started ever since we opened in 2016. Passion is the number one quality I look for. Second is respect for the craft and their co-models.
When you have Slay models representing a brand or designer, is there any added pressure, higher expectations, or unconscious biases you think Slay models have to face?
I don’t believe so. Slay Models are models first, and Trans folk second.
The modeling world is a tough industry to break into and can also be very discouraging. Is there any advice you have for any aspiring models out there, especially in the trans community?
Yes. Don’t expect to be Kendall Jenner or Bella Hadid with the same paycheck. It takes years to develop and climb the ranks. Be patient, find your tribe, and respect the craft. Expect to work numerous times for free and work with creatives. Communicate with your agent, as it takes a long time to develop yourself. And keep going, and do not give up.
What are the core values of Slay? How do the core values impact the models you sign and the companies that you work with?
Simple: WE SEE TRANS INDIVIDUALS AS BEAUTIFUL. OUR STRONG COMMITMENT TO DEVELOPING THEM AS SUCCESSFUL MODELS IS NEVER ABOUT QUANTIFYING THE MODEL'S GENDER. IT IS ABOUT THEIR PASSION AND COMMITMENT TO BEING THE BEST POSSIBLE MODELS THEY CAN BE.
I believe 100% that the clients we have had who hired our models understand what Slay Model Management is about.
What has been the biggest challenge Slay Model Management has faced, and how did you overcome those challenges?
Tokenism is a big problem and the scarcity of jobs. Our models still go through this as there’s not enough demand because people need to understand that beauty is beauty. It is not dictated by one's biases or designation at birth. We overcome it by simply existing. Every day we put in the work, we develop our talent, and it’s constant education within the community and outside of the community.
Where do you hope to see the future of Slay Model Management head to?
World domination. We would like to have Slay Model Management in key cities within the fashion realm. With enough luck and perseverance, we will get there.
* Editor’s Note: Trans and Transgender are capitalized in this article, highlighting the importance of the topic.