Shashi Naidoo On Being An Unconventional (Business) Model

Shashi Naidoo On Being An Unconventional (Business) Model


Vital Stats

  • Company: Alushi Models
  • Player: Shashi Naidoo
  • Established: 2008
  • Contact:

“I wasn’t your typical model,” says Shashi Naidoo. “Think of your typical model, and you picture a tall and rake-thin girl. That wasn’t my build. For a model, I was quite short.”

But, despite being the only unconventional model at her agency, Naidoo wasn’t struggling to book work. There were plenty of clients looking for a different kind of model.

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This gave her an idea: Why not start an agency of her own that focused on offering the kinds of models that the traditional agencies weren’t?

A Unique Offering

“My idea wasn’t to supply what the industry calls ‘character’ models – people who completely defy the traditional image of a model and fill a very specific niche. My aim was simply to stretch the definition of the concept a bit to include people who didn’t conform to the absolute stereotype,” says Naidoo.

Her hunch paid off. It quickly became clear that there was demand for what she was offering, but breaking into the industry was still very hard. The large agencies were dominating the market.

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“Growing a business in an industry filled with large and entrenched competitors can be hard,” says Naidoo.

“You need to be willing to do anything to build out your client base. I resorted to cold calling. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to grow my client base.

“It’s important to remember that hearing the word ‘no’ will never kill you. Pitching to clients can be hard, but it’s worth it. You need to push through.”

Growing Competition

Naidoo’s concept eventually took off. In fact, it wasn’t long until the established agencies were copying her idea, setting up divisions that focused exclusively on providing the same kinds of models as Naidoo.

“You’re only going to own your unique offering for so long. If you’re onto a solid idea, the competition will copy you. It’s inevitable,” says Naidoo. “It’s a fact that you just need to accept. There’s no point in getting hung up on it. Instead, you should focus on how you can stay ahead of the competition and find ways to make your offering even more unique.”

Naidoo focused on providing the best service possible. In an industry with a reputation for people who are difficult to work with, she crafted a reliable service that clients could depend on.

“Models can be tough to manage. They are usually very young, and they can sometimes be unreliable. Some can also over-estimate their own significance when it comes to a shoot,” says Naidoo.

“I made the decision to be very strict. I made it clear that I wouldn’t tolerate unprofessional behaviour. Thanks to this, clients know that I won’t let them down.”

Model Management


At the same time, Naidoo decided to do her best to attract and retain high-quality models. “As a model, it can take a long time to get paid for any work you do. In fact, it usually takes no less than three months to get paid for work. And if a client is slow to pay, it can take much longer. This can be very tough on the models.”

To keep her models happy, Naidoo made the decision to pay models out of her own pocket, even if a client hadn’t paid yet.

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“When I started out, I didn’t have the cash flow necessary to do that,” she says. “But now that the company is more mature, I can afford to pay the models, even if the client hasn’t paid yet. It isn’t something that I’m obligated to do, but it helps me attract promising talent.”

TV Networking

As a TV presenter, Naidoo had the advantage of being able to promote her business in various ways. Firstly, she had access to local celebrities, and she has used that opportunity to get quite a few of them onto her books. Local names such as Cindy Nell, Stefan Ludik, Kajal Maharaj and Sinazo Yolwa are all part of her agency.

Partnering with celebrities is always a great idea. “Celebs have large social media followings, and they can help you a lot in building your brand. Synergy is a term that gets used a lot, but it truly does work.”

She has also used her fame to promote her business. “I get interviewed quite a lot, and I always use these interviews to talk about my business. You need to actively promote your business if you want to build it out. Credibility is important, and if you want to increase your credibility, you need to get your name out there. Clients can’t approach you if they’ve never heard of you.”

GG van Rooyen
GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.

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