Every year, little by little, we see a bit more size diversity on the runway at Fashion Week. Plus-size or curve models are booking major beauty campaigns, landing covers and popping up in ads all over the place. Odds are, Mina White, Director for IMG Models, had something to do with that.
After leaving her first agency job in 2009, White called IMG Models’ President Ivan Bartand and offered to work there for free in order to get her proverbial foot in the proverbial door. Obviously impressed by her passion and gumption, Bart hired White the next day. Since then she’s built up an impressive roster of Curve clients, from Tara Lynn to Paloma Elesser to Ashley Graham.
I jumped at the opportunity to email Mina a few of my (many, many, many) questions about her time in the industry and the future of fashion. She’s truly a wise woman with a wonderful drink order. Read on for insights into the fashion business.
Can you talk me through the emotional process of deciding to quit and work for free at IMG? What went into calculating that risk?
I am a single mother. I had my daughter as a teen and she was/is/always will be my best friend. I was working in a rather toxic environment for me and started to bring the baggage home. I saw myself at times taking it out on her, and knew that I needed to find a better environment. The reason why I offered to work free of charge was because, at the time, IMG was not hiring. I knew I wanted to be here, and it was honestly the only move that made sense. I also knew my value, that I would show them who I was for free and then make myself indispensable. Luckily, Ivan was so impressed by the offer I had an offer letter later that day, with a salary.
How have you changed as an agent/director?
I think the biggest change (and I think this has more to do with age than title) is that I am far more patient with my overall approach. I am an emotional person and I get very invested in EVERYTHING I attach myself to. When clients book jobs I am ecstatic; when they don’t I am gutted. My passion can be both a gift and a curse to myself and the receiver. I am proud of my passion, but have also learned that I can be more strategic in how I channel it.
I learn every day — I am fortunate to work with an incredible group of people and have loved ones who are always supporting me, allowing me to use them as sounding boards and sharing their experiences with me. I try to bring everything I learn into how I manage my work and my talent.
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Do you feel like you can send curve models to any castings or are things more siloed?
I think that clients are far more receptive [than they’ve been in the past]. Sometimes I feel people are seeing girls just to not hear me stomp my feet and scream from my soap box (again, that passion). But I am fine with that because I cannot begin to tell you how many times we have had clients book jobs after a go-see, when originally they were a hard NO. I tell everyone, my job is to get you invited in, it is your job to be invited to stay.
Do you think there are extra hoops curve models have to jump through during fashion week that “straight-size” models do not?
As it is, I think many go into these castings with the feeling that there won’t be any clothes for them, and then others go in knowing that if there are any looks in larger sizes, there are at most one or two, so each curve model has to work extra hard to make an impact on the team and casting director for said label.
Would you say there’s an “on trend” look for models at the moment?
I think that we are in a very special time in the industry where the consumer is asking — demanding — to be represented, so the trend is almost trendless. Beauty, true and authentic beauty, inside and out, with messaging and a stance, is what is trending. People want to see aspirational and not just by way of a pretty face, but a full and total package.
How has Instagram influenced the industry? Has it changed how you do your work?
Instagram has allowed those who didn’t know how to be involved get involved. Instagram has allowed brands to better understand what their consumers want. If it wasn’t for social media, the curve movement would have just been another one-off, another big girl in a naked or lingerie story. Instagram/social media has changed how I work and is always a topic of conversation with clients. I am always pushing for clients to find ways to integrate social media into their lives, as you see that almost every customer is now asking for social numbers when booking talent.
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There are a lot of conversations happening at the moment around size inclusivity in the fashion world — what do you think is often missed or overlooked in that conversation? What do most people still not understand about this world and process?
I think what we aren’t talking about enough is the need for size diversity in samples. It is important that ALL brands offer a varied range of sizes in their samples. Without the samples, the conversation is at a standstill. Yes, we need more curves in editorial, curves on runways and curves on campaigns, but without the samples none of that is possible. I have heard from people that the concern is the fiscal aspect of creating samples in varied sizes; however, I think as many fashion brands are seeing a decline in sales, this may be a smart financial risk. If you start to include the consumers who have felt alienated and show them in all sizes how good they look in YOUR clothes, this will surely translate into sales and new business.
What do you see as the next frontier of inclusivity in fashion?
Diversity – not just in size– is still lacking in the industry, and through campaigns, editorial and runway, the consumer is very attached to the story and marketing behind their purchases. If they see themselves being identified and celebrated for who they are, they are far more prone to want to buy in. We should be working harder to have a far more inclusive landscape, including cultural, age and size diversity. Especially in these times, it is important that we celebrate each other and lead with love and acceptance.
How do you stay calm, relax or treat yourself during fashion week?
Ha!! I wish I had a better answer but honestly, when I start to feel like my “PASSION” is running high, I like to treat myself to a Tito’s Arnold Palmer.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Feature image of Paloma Elsesser by Dimitrios Kambouris via Getty Images.