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SALT LAKE CITY — What does it take to become a top model? Contrary to what you might think, a reality show is not the answer. A Utah modeling scout and agent gives the details on where she finds her faces and what it takes to make it to the top.
Erin Olson, owner of Echo Models in Salt Lake City, first worked as a model herself in the ’90s in places like China and India. She then spent years working behind the scenes in the fashion industry. She was about to enroll in fashion school in New York in the mid-2000s when she met her future husband.
“Of course everything changes when you meet your husband,” Olson said with a laugh. “I came back to Utah and got married, but I had all this knowledge and these great relationships that I had developed.”
Olson started scouting for models in 2008 and started Echo Models shortly after.
“I knew how to connect girls to the right agencies and the right hands with the really good kind of professional people (in the fashion industry),” Olson said.
She went to a high school track meet in Fillmore about five years ago to scout for potential models. As soon as she saw Whitney Jensen, she knew she had the looks to be a star.
“It was obvious she was a potential model. She’s like 5-feet-11½-inches and just had the measurements for a model,” Olson said.
Jensen, who hails from Fillmore, Utah, said she was “shocked” when Olson approached her about modeling.
“I was literally raised in the middle of nowhere, on a farm,” Jensen said. “So I really had no clue that the fashion world even existed.”
Olson signed Jensen to her small modeling agency and was able to place her almost instantly with top agencies around the world because of her connections.
Jensen's work has taken her around the world, walking in Fashion Week and working on shoots in New York, Milan, Singapore and Paris. Models who are just into the industry aim to model at Fashion Week, Olson said, because it's a great start and a fast-paced and fun work environment.
“Backstage is total chaos, filled with photographers, makeup and hair artists and random people galore,” Jensen said. "Therefore, it can be pretty nerve-wracking. However, once you get out on that runway you feel like a total rock star, so it's all worth it.”
About 200 girls audition in front of a casting director for each show, Olson said. The director and designer pick the girls they want for the show. Then the girls show up a few days before to get fitted for their clothes.
“About an hour before the show starts, they get their hair and makeup done and then they do a show,” Olson said. A show typically lasts for 10 to 15 minutes so lots of girls do multiple shows in a day.
Jensen walked in New York Fashion Week in February. Because she's been a model for about five years, she's also gotten contracts with top designers like Kate Spade and Carolina Herrera, Olson said, and her most recent work can be seen showcased on the Echo Model blog.
“Whitney has been in Bazaar and Elle and Marie Claire,” she said. “She’s been in lots of magazines all over the world, and so she’s done the editorials and now she’s kind of moving in to getting lots of campaigns with companies.”
Olson has a lot of tips for aspiring models, especially those in Utah. The first thing they should know is that a real agency will not make a potential model pay for anything.
Some modeling agencies around here will say, 'Yeah you have to pay for that up front, $2,000 for a class to get your portfolio started,' but a legitimate agency will pay for that for you. There are so many scams out there and there are so many agencies that do that, and that's what creates the conflict of interest, it's like do you just want my money? Or do you really want to get me some jobs?
“No model should legitimately have to pay for anything out of pocket,” Olson said, adding that agencies should be willing to shell out money to help build a model's portfolio as an investment.
Olson routinely turns down models who don't meet the height requirements and steers them toward something else, like acting.
She cautions against agencies, even in Utah, that will take just about anyone's money.
“Some modeling agencies around here will say, 'Yeah you have to pay for that up front, $2,000 for a class to get your portfolio started,' but a legitimate agency will pay for that for you,” Olson said. “There are so many scams out there and there are so many agencies that do that, and that’s what creates the conflict of interest, it’s like do you just want my money? Or do you really want to get me some jobs?”
Aspiring models can even bypass having an agent in Utah and just send in photos of themselves in plain clothes and no makeup directly to major agencies in New York.
“If you’ve got model potential, they will get back to you,” Olson said. “So it doesn’t cost any money."
If any aspiring models or parents of aspiring models have questions about the industry or if they'll be a right fit, Olson said they can contact her. She likes to clear up common misconceptions about the industry, like knowing that aspiring models shouldn't pay any money.
“One of the other misconceptions about the industry is that it’s really an exploitative industry and exploiting girls and things like that, and it’s really not,” she said. “These girls have great family backgrounds, great standards, great foundations and they don’t get into trouble.”
If all else fails, you could just go to a high school track meet and hope to be scouted.
“I love scouting track meets,” Olson said with a laugh. “Track meets, cross-country events, just any high school event, really, is a great place.”