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REJECT TOKENISM

The casting director fighting fashion’s diversity problem, one face at a time

Ellie Smith for Quartz
By Marc Bain
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

London’s Troy Fearn is part of a new guard of casting directors and agents pushing fashion to embrace a more diverse range of models in its photo shoots and runway shows. He works with top magazines and brands to find the faces that will represent them to the world.

This piece, in Fearn’s words as told to Marc Bain, has been edited and condensed.

I think Instagram is the biggest thing that has changed. It’s the biggest tool in marketing that we have, and it’s free.

I work directly with brands, stylists, creative directors. They will say that they want a particular kind of person for a shoot, show, look book, or whatever that might be. Then it’s down to me to go and find that person. So that might be through street-casting or I would go to agencies and ask to see if some people are available. Then, I would pick from that pool of people and present this to the client. It can be from the top level stuff, like Vogue, Man About Town, Another Man, to lower level stuff, basically casting people for certain brands’ Instagrams.

To me it’s not just about having a face. The person also has to have some personality. That to me translates so well into shoots. You can tell if it looks authentic, and if that person would wear that clothing, or if it makes sense for them to be involved in a certain concept. It’s obvious when it’s just so calculated.

So definitely people do a lot of shoots just for Instagram. What’s great about Instagram is I can essentially street-scout from the comfort of my own home. It makes it easier in casting to follow the agencies and the models to see who’s shooting for what, and with whom.

But you do give quite a lot away with Instagram. If I find someone great, it’s not long before 10 other people are following them. There’s always this little race to see who books them first. The thing you get online, there’s like this echo chamber of people. You don’t really get out of that. That’s why I think it’s important to be still street-scouting on the street, where the people are.

When it comes to street-casting and Instagram, that’s opened up to many different kinds of people that you include in shows, shoots

When it comes to street-casting and Instagram, that’s opened up to many different kinds of people that you include in shows, shoots. I’m 27. I grew up in the north of England. My friends were all black, white, Asian, Indian, so many different people around me. Now I live in London. My friendship group is diverse. The music I listen to, the art that I ingest, it comes from a whole mix of different places, and that really comes through in my work.

Historically, fashion has been very much a white-dominated space. That’s changing now. We have more ethnicities, races involved across all aspects of production. I think that that has definitely changed the type of model that we see now. It used to be the stereotypical, good-looking white girl, skinny. Same with the boy. I don’t think you can have a cast now that is all white. People don’t do it now because of the fear of being called out. Also, I think people’s mindsets have changed.

I don’t think you can have a cast now that is all white

A lot of agencies now have plus-size girls and boys on their books, which is great, and I can, where possible, insert certain people into my shoots and shows. But it’s always a bit trickier because sample sizes are made for a certain size. I think until the designers themselves make clothes that fit bigger people, there’s not much that the people who work on shoots or shows can do. That lies solely with the designers and them making clothes that fit. It’s definitely changing, but it’s taking its time.

I think it’s a moral thing, but also in terms of logic. People will want to buy into a brand that they see themselves in. If your cast is just all one race or one size, then you alienate so many other people. It’s just not good business. In terms of morals, to me to have an all-white cast, I would feel a bit like a fraud. I’d feel like I’m upholding white supremacy, that fashion should only be for rich, white people, when actually people of color have money and they also wear nice clothes and they also are aspirational. An all-white cast, it just upholds this idea that white people are top of this pyramid, and everybody underneath that is inferior.

I think that’s where it comes in, the conscious effort to make it mixed. For me, I couldn’t send 25 people down a catwalk if 20 of them were all white. It wouldn’t make sense.

Aside from casting, I also have an agency of my own. With street-scouting, I find a lot of great people, who other agencies will go and take off me. So I started my own agency to really keep the ones I love, and whenever I see my people in shoots or shows—I don’t know, it’s like being someone’s mum. You feel proud of them.

I just enjoy it, and like being a part of that process and creating that art, a good visual that people can connect to and can sometimes get inspiration from. If I do a shoot which some kid then sees and thinks, “Oh, you know maybe that could be me one day,” I’m like “Ok, cool.” That’s sort of corny, but if I give somebody a bit of confidence through casting something, which they connect to, then happy days.

There’s a truth to be told, and I think that people buy into things that are authentic. When you see tokenism, it’s so obvious. I think that people buy into brands and they buy into models or they buy into concepts that they actually see a truth in. Casting is very much like the final piece. It brings everything together. It ties in the styling, location, the concept, and with the right people, will really elevate a story and bring it to the next level.

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