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Meet Lauren Smith of The Model Smith in DTLA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lauren Smith.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Well, starting with after I attended school at (FIDM) I was waitressing as I always had, while trying to work in fashion. I went to school with the idea of working in magazines., however I graduated in 2009, when magazines were starting to go digital, cutting jobs… people were trying to keep their jobs and the only people being hired were first on the scene bloggers who already had something to show or people who could live and intern in New York. You had to really be up there or really have something to bring to the table, and in that facet, I didn’t. It was also really when social media had just started to have an “influence.”

I didn’t know what kind of job I could actually do. I had a lot of passion for fashion, but I didn’t have a lot to show for it other than my schooling. I interned for a fashion show production company (basically operations backstage of fashion shows.) I loved it, but this is L.A., so they were few in far between. And dressing models backstage for a fashion show is humbling, to say the least. Then I got a magazine internship that I loved, I mainly fact-checked, transcribed long interviews and researched new topics. But I got to be on a few amazing sets with models, celebrities and extremely talented teams, go to parties with all of these people, seeing everything. I was usually the person going to pick up the sushi order terrified of messing it up, but I didn’t care at all.

I think that’s when I discovered part of what I loved about magazines was seeing these ideas, people, all of it come together. It’s also where I learned I loved telling stories, but I’m not really a writer. Through my school’s network I started seeing jobs that were what I can only really describe as “hole-filler” positions-they were smaller companies that maybe worked with PR but didn’t have in house, and having a social media person, let alone team wasn’t a thing yet. I’m the least and most passionate person, when I believe in something, in someone, I want to tell people. Which can be great in PR (it can also really not be if you don’t believe in something and are bad at BS-ing, I learned later.)

I took what I had learned about the current industry from that magazine internship, and at this point I had been in LA for a handful of years already, so I knew L.A. too, and because these were smaller companies, and both happened to be Israeli, family owned companies, they weren’t completely familiar with what you really needed to make it in L.A. at this point in time. I basically introduced them to the “cool kids” and showed them how in L.A. to start being seen on these new platforms, you needed them. It worked, I produced and really did every part of (with a few favors from people I had to hit up as the old intern from the magazine…) the first companies only major campaign. Their sales increased pretty instantly, but they were still learning about these new ways of marketing as everyone was.

I was in charge of casting models for social media and other content we created. Again because I had a good sense of who was who, and I kept track of them, and an understanding of brands, I had another moment of “here is something I’m good at.” There was a modeling agent who had a few of the models who were more of this new influencer/social media wave. She also had recently started her own agency…

I think I emailed her and was like “how can I work for you?” and at that time, she was kind of where I am now! She was like “I am a one-woman show,” but she recommended me to an agency that was building out their “print” Print, (so modeling) division. I interviewed and got the job, and while I was brand new, I knew that’s what I wanted to do forever. It’s funny I recently had a long over-due phone conversation with that agency owner I reached out to, and she was like “You were a BABY!” and it’s so funny because it didn’t feel that way… I feel as though I’m late. That I took a path as long as this response and NOW I’m a baby in this in this industry. I assisted one of the partners of the agency and built that division with them.

Then, some shifts happened, and I was moved into commercial. I worked alongside the head of the commercial and voiceover, which were really different. I learned so much about that world and from her. She really let me get involved and feel a part of things and the client’s careers, and again I loved that. However, going in we all knew that wasn’t my passion. I went to an agency where I was actually an agent, heading up their men’s and women’s modeling boards. It was a mainly NYC agency with an LA office. I got brought in again to kind of change how things were operating. I met with honestly like 300 of their talent in a few weeks, and a lot needed to change.

And without certain support, I couldn’t do it. I was left like, okay I could go work for a big agency, I could find another small one… but obviously, I have a way of doing things. So, I let the talent I was working closely with know I’d be in touch and proceeded with management with a few of them while I sought out my next move. I don’t know what it is, but I really like being a part of the talents journey, and working with them on a personal level, what they need to do as individuals to work more. I didn’t know if I could get that at a big agency, and I didn’t want to go try and give my all to another smaller agency that already had their ways, so yeah I have no idea how but I started this thing.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I wouldn’t say any part of my path has been easy. Like a lot of people, especially now, I didn’t have a typical childhood. I was born in Detroit. I ended up being raised with my mom and my Grandmother. My dad’s side of the family lived very differently, and I very much had to try to find home with both. I think that has really carried into my adult life.

I started working on a permit/school credit at 14 years old. I left home not many years after. No one was telling me to go to school. And because of all I had going on outside of it, I didn’t even think about it. I got extremely lucky in high school when I met a teacher who for some reason made it her mission to get me on track. If you ask her, she will tell you “when I met Lauren she told me “I want to end up somewhere warm, with a job in fashion or something like that in a big city.”

I tell you this part because I think that these things about my life and people like her are why I like to work on such a personal level. I want to know what this talent, especially younger ones want, what they need and I want to do what I can to help them get there. I truly care, because I get it. I love working with clients who aren’t necessarily the easiest because those are the ones to watch out for. In a different way, I am one!

Obviously, I hadn’t thought about college, I planned on beauty school (which I did do some of later) or community college until I could maybe transfer. I ended up doing the latter. There was a brief stint of moving to Chicago to do it but like I said to my teacher, I want to be somewhere warm. And while I had no idea I’d go into what I’m in now I felt like the kind of job I really was going to want wasn’t going to find in Chicago, and I was right.

So I came to L.A. I knew nothing about it other than a trip my dad had taken here. Funny thing, I hadn’t really ever been..anywhere. It sounds so stupid but until I got here and looked at, a map or tried to book a flight I didn’t realize I just move across the country and was never going to be able to hop in the car and drive back. I knew nothing about it. I can’t say I haven’t had help along the way, or that I haven’t had some amazing people in my life, but it wasn’t easy. As far as later struggles now, of course.

I mean, I started this company while I was still working in nightclubs and salons. I did everything from the initial research and paperwork to finding talent etc. by myself. I have never had an investor or any help. So financially, yes that’s tough. That’s why I work so hard to build, yet again no ones over my shoulder telling me “you have to do this.” That’s all me, that’s my voice. I’m also young to be doing this. I’m a female. I have an extremely strong competition. Those things motivate me.

Please tell us about The Model Smith. What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of as a company? What sets you apart from others?
The Model Smith other than the obvious because of my last name is based on the concept of development. I know that there are hundreds of agencies, name agencies in L.A. Going back to what I said about working one on one, I seek out talent I can see potential in that may not be able to sign to another agency because they need to work on a certain part of their career.

Maybe they are working on industry required sizes, building their portfolio, etc. (while that’s changing and I love it.)We then work together to create an individualized plan for their growth. This covers a huge umbrella of things. However, I also have talent who find me because they have been in the industry and worked and they are looking for a “boutique” feel or someone with a more hands-on approach. I also do handle some commercial, so I have some clients who are comedians, real families, skilled in a specific craft, etc. who only do commercial work be it TV or print.

I have always said we “specialize in development and good people.” I have under 30 clients. I know all of them and can truly tell you that while they’re all very different, they all have something special about them. They’re the kind of people that you want to talk to. That I would want to be on a set with for a long sometimes exhausting or tedious day.

The most common feedback I get, and it’s genuine is “your clients are so nice.” I’m proud of that. Any time I’ve heard otherwise, and it happens, it doesn’t work out. I also try to keep the talent I bring on as diverse as possible, and I don’t know that all agencies do. I don’t do this just to have people to send in for jobs, but because I want to be a part of the representation of everyone. While this industry is more inclusive than ever, it’s still getting there.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I don’t have many, to be honest! I loved the school I was in when I finished elementary school. It was where I met all of my childhood friends. It wasn’t the best school in the city, but there were kids like me. We were troublemakers, but we had so much fun, and I think that a lot of us really needed each other, looked out for each other. We’d talk about our futures even back then.

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Image Credit:
@redheartmedia, @dixiesphotography, Scooby Miranda @scoobysnapstories, Ruben @thatriteguy

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