Supernaturals Modelling Agency is less than six months old, but the first-of-its-kind organization is already making waves. The agency works exclusively with Indigenous models to highlight Indigenous beauty and inspire others to feature them.
Co-founder Joleen Mitton said that she was inspired to start the organization after she began working with Indigenous youth in foster care in Vancouver, Canada. Mitton, a model herself, had been working in the fashion business since she was 15 years old. While she connected with Indigenous youth in her community to teach cultural lessons and life skills, she found it difficult to reach older children, until one day in 2013.
"We were losing them. We weren't keeping (their interest) by teaching them how to use a Crock-Pot or write a resume," said Mitton. "I had a fashion show in 2013 on Indigenous Peoples' Day and I had all these young people rush to the stage. That's how it all started. I was like, 'OK, I have something tangible here."
Mitton started to teach modeling and eventually started Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week, where her mentees strutted their stuff on the runway.
"Watching (our mentees) walk in their light was really, really meaningful to see," Mitton said.
Some of those models eventually broke into the industry, but didn't have the best experiences.
"A couple of our models had gone to a non-Indigenous agency, and they were treated terribly," she said.
After a while, Mitton and co-founder Patrick Shannon decided to start their own modeling agency, entirely focused on Indigenous beauty, something that Mitton said was a "natural transition."
"What Supernaturals tries to do is bring culture elders and (an) Indigenous worldview into our agency," said Mitton. "It was just a natural transition. We wanted to keep them safe, keep them protected and keep them supported."
The models who work with Mitton and Supernaturals shared some of their experiences. One model said that it "feels amazing" and makes her feel "excited for the future," while another said that since joining with the agency, she sees how "each and every" model is "so powerful."
"(Supernaturals) helped me find my voice ... and be a proud Indigenous woman," another model said.
Mitton said that she has already received thousands of applications from prospective models, despite the agency's short existence. She hopes to soon see the models walking on the world's most elite runways and making appearances at fashion weeks around the world.
"Seeing them proud to be who they are, to see the strength of your ancestors walking behind you, is just the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," Mitton said. "I want to continue to do that, and I think the fashion industry could really benefit from that as well."