Is This Boutique Agency Legit, or Shit?

6 Signs that Separate the “Trash” from the “Class”.

The first step to becoming a successful model (most of the time) is to get signed to an agency. A good segue into the modeling world is getting signed with a boutique agency, which is basically fancy talk for a smaller, local company.

Boutique agencies have tons of advantages, including less models to compete with and a more personalized, one-on-one relationship with the models. Signing with a boutique can guarantee a model more paying jobs, better representation, and most importantly, protection. But in a world where starting your own business is as easy as falling off a log, how do you recognize a real boutique agency when there is so much “trash”?

Here are 6 signs that the boutique agency you are looking to sign with is NOT legit:

1 - They don’t have a physical location or storefront and are a “one-man show”.

Yes, not all businesses require a physical storefront; i.e. photographers, online shops, etc, but a real agency, boutique or otherwise, should not be run by some person out of their basement. This is a giant red flag and “agencies” like this should be avoided. The reasoning behind this business practice is so they can avoid business overhead (insurance, taxes, etc), which clearly means they are not profitable enough, and in turn, will not be profitable for you.

2 - They expect a cut of all of your paid gigs, including ones that you find by yourself, but they refuse to try and help promote/advertise/market you to get you paying jobs.

It is standard practice for a legit agency to take a cut of all of your paid work. That is how they make a profit. But the whole point of being signed, is so an agency will do the leg work to get you more paying jobs. This kind of behavior proves that the agency is more interested in putting an extra dollar in their pocket, & is too lazy to help you find success. They get to sit back, throw their feet up, & then reap the benefits of YOUR hard work. Being signed with an agency should be a mutual benefit. It is LITERALLY their job to find you paying gigs.

LITERALLY. (Am I using that word right?)

3 - They either don’t use a contract, or their contract is half-assed.

Contracts are used to protect all parties involved. They are absolutely vital to ensure the safety & reliability of the agency and model. I believe that the only way to ensure an airtight, legally-binding contract is to have it written by an attorney, so it will uphold in court. If an agency has a contract that looks like it was written by someone without a law degree, I would walk away without a second glance. All it takes is one wrong word in a contract to have it completely unravel in court; thus risking your career as a model.

And if they don’t use one at all? HELL NAH. They clearly don’t give a shit about you. Without one, you are at their mercy and are setting yourself up for a failed lawsuit. A SIGNED MODEL can’t be a ‘“signed model” without a signature. It’s called USING PROTECTION. PROTECT YO'SELF!

4 - They become overly controlling.

Of course, when you become a signed model, there is a certain level of control that the agency will have over you. They will have a certain say in your hairstyles, body modifications (tattoos & piercings), and yes, your weight. But GOOD LAWD, an agency that starts to control every tiny aspect of your life outside of modeling is abusing their power. They do NOT get to do the following:

  • Tell you who you spend your time with outside of work
  • Tell you who you can work with on trade
  • Decide what your curfew is
  • Decide who you date
  • Force you to take a “hiatus”

The list goes on. Your private life is your private life for a reason. Your agency is your employer, NOT your parent. And even if you are a minor, those decisions are for Mom & Dad, NOT your agency.

5- They purposely withhold paying jobs from you.

On a scale of 1--Even, I literally CAN’T, right now. I cannot wrap my brain around this.

Unless you committed some heinous act that went against your contract, withholding multiple paying jobs from you because the agency is throwing some middle-school temper tantrum, results in BOTH parties losing out of profit. Any agency that does this is doing it because they are trying to punish you. Yes, agencies can decide which jobs you can take and which ones to stay away from, but using money as a way to demean & control you is MENTAL ABUSE. If your behavior is sub-par and you need to be disciplined, there are better, more respectful ways to help you grow and learn from your mistakes. 

This topic also includes an agency setting out to destroy your career after you are no longer signed with them. Modeling contracts come to an end either because of time, or because there is bad blood between you and the boutique. For example, in Denver, CO, there are a plethora of boutique agencies, and a lot of them are involved with the local fashion shows. An agency using their position of power to get an ex-model of theirs cut from a show is absolutely deplorable. Once a model is no longer connected to an agency, both parties need to go their separate ways and leave each other alone.

6 - They force you to drastically alter your look, AFTER you sign with them.

In reality, an agency will agree to sign you because they like how you look and they feel they can profit off of your physical appearance. A little bit of altering is normal, but trying to turn you into a completely different person is a total contradiction. A agency that forces models to change their physical look to the extreme can actually be incredibly traumatizing to the model. Being told one moment that you are “JUST WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR!!!’ to, “Ok, but you’re gonna need to bleach your hair, chop it all off, lose 50 lbs and sew your stretched ears shut” can give you whiplash and cause you to go into an identity head spin.

Hey agencies: how about instead of turning your model into a fucking Bratz Doll, just do them a favor and DON’T SIGN THEM if you DON'T LIKE THEM? Yaknowwhatimean?

I know that there are at least 100 things that I could add to this list, but quite frankly, I am getting carpel tunnel. I've seen so many models get excited when some half-ass "boutique agency" signs them, just to realize months later, that they are still putting in as much work as they did when they were freelance. 

I cannot stress enough; DO YOUR RESEARCH! Ask around and get references. Being signed won't do shit for you if the boutique agency doesn't hold up their end of the deal. If you know a model that used to be signed with a boutique agency, but is no longer with them, ask them about their experience. You deserve to be well-represented, not a trophy that these fake agencies trope around town to make them look good.

And as always, STAY SAFE!!

-Mia