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Modeling agency embraces 'body positivity'

The Matthew Agency aims to sign talent of every age, height, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation to work for its local clients.

August 11, 2017
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The Matthew Agency modeling
Owner Kelly Koning-Ramic and Daniel Parker, agency director, hope to add another 100 models to the roster at The Matthew Agency. Courtesy Justin Leveque

In an industry often known for narrow beauty standards pushing models past the point of health, Kelly Koning-Ramic embraces a different ethos: one of acceptance and self-confidence.

Koning-Ramic bought The Matthew Agency, a talent and modeling company, on June 1 from Unique Models and Talent. Jared Matthew, a photographer and choreographer who previously worked in cruise ship entertainment, founded the agency nine years ago and sold it to Unique Models three years ago.

In her first two months of ownership, Koning-Ramic and Agency Director Daniel Parker have held open calls for beginners or professionals 16 and older of all sizes, ethnicities, gender identities and sexual orientation to add 100 models to the 65 they already represent.

“Something for me when I purchased the agency that I felt strongly about was the industry standards,” Koning-Ramic said. “The Matthew Agency has no standard for height, weight or BMI (and) we have a contractual no-tolerance policy for eating disorders, steroids and unhealthy habits.

“We accept all body sizes and shapes, contrary to industry standards in other countries and even here in the U.S. in larger cities (such as New York and Los Angeles).

“I want to be on the forefront of body positivity.”

Lucky for Koning-Ramic, the local modeling industry seems to be shifting in the same direction. She said she often gets requests from clients for ethnically diverse and “ethnically ambiguous models” and is seeing demand for models who are in the 30 to 80 age range.

“For example, we had an 81-year-old model come, and we signed her. She was so sweet,” Koning-Ramic said. She added that 20-somethings who look like they could be teenagers are more sought after because 16- and 17-year-olds’ looks change too quickly.

The agency works with large clients such as Steelcase, Amway, Wolverine Worldwide and Bissell; smaller PR and marketing firms that contract with a wide range of industries; independent photographers; clothing lines; and Leigh's in East Grand Rapids for their trunk shows and fashion events.

Koning-Ramic’s goal is to sign more models and clients to grow revenue above its current level. She hopes to set up a meeting to “refresh local connections” with former client Meijer, who recently shifted to booking models in the Chicago market as it expanded its presence in fashion.

“At the moment, (revenue) is pretty much the same as when I purchased the agency,” Koning-Ramic said. “We’re steadily moving forward but not growing to the level I would like it to be. There’s a lot of potential in Grand Rapids.”

In addition to running her new agency, Koning-Ramic also is co-owner with her husband and brother-in-law of Grand Rapids-based logistics and brokerage company MNM Transport Services, which she and her husband founded eight years ago.

Koning-Ramic recently was elected president of the board of the nonprofit Community Media Center and serves on its donor development and executive committees.

Because of her divided time, Koning-Ramic relies on Parker to keep operations running at The Matthew Agency.

She said models can expect a predictable sequence when they come in for interviews. The open call is about a five- to 10-minute process.

“You’ve got to have confidence,” Koning-Ramic said. “You have a quick interview with Dan or myself, and we ask, ‘Why do you want to be a model? and ‘Are (your work hours) flexible?’ Then we do some digital shots. A week or two goes by, and we email a yes or no.”

After models sign, they have the option to do fresh portfolio shots with one of four freelance photographers the agency uses. If they are new to the business, they also can request to do training shoots.

Next, Parker and Koning-Ramic send out the model’s “comp cards,” or digital portfolio of three to five photos that let clients see the model in different lighting, poses and styles of dress.

“If the client likes that specific person, they would book them for the job,” she said. “Normally, if a client is booking for a job, they send over requirements of what they want. ‘I want a size 6 shoe, curly hair.’ We send over four to five models that meet their descriptions, then they would choose from them or ask for more. Normally, they choose from whom we offer the first time around — it’s a pretty fast process.”

Koning-Ramic said The Matthew Agency can’t promise models a steady stream of jobs, noting that Grand Rapids does not have a fashion industry, per se, so there is a smaller volume of work. Models also should expect to work whenever clients call.

“Our clients book for regular 9-5 hours,” she said. “There’s not many shoots that happen on the weekend. They’ll say, ‘We need you to be there next week Tuesday for the full day.’ If you can’t, we send over new models.”

Because it’s not a full-time gig, The Matthew Agency’s talent roster is comprised mostly of people who have other jobs besides modeling.

“We have models in their 40s and 50s who are business professionals. One’s an attorney,” she said.

The Matthew Agency requires models, by contract, to arrive at photo shoots with freshly washed hair, faces free of makeup, and manicures and pedicures. Many of the shoots are done on-site inside a company’s headquarters, but sometimes they occur outside or in the city.

Koning-Ramic said she adores The Matthew Agency’s fourth-floor space inside downtown Grand Rapids’ historic McKay Tower.

“When I purchased the agency in June, right away I signed a lease with McKay Tower,” she said. “They redid (the space), but it still has a lot of original marble, old hardwood floors and the lights, which I absolutely love.”

The agency’s website is designed like its office space, with the idea of a simple, clean aesthetic that communicates the company’s ethos of beauty, inclusion and diversity.

“With the industry, and especially with young girls, (they) are not made to feel beautiful enough or appreciated enough because of the industry standards,” Koning-Ramic said. “But with The Matthew Agency, they can go on our website and look at our models and say, ‘Wow, someone who looks like me.’

“We want to be that type of role model.”

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