Femi Alabi started out wanting to be a model. But in the process of trying to make that happen, he discovered that model management is his real passion.
He has since built Cias Model Management, a scouting, model development and management company with partners in Paris, London, Spain and Milian. We caught up with him to learn how he achieved that.
Has model management always been the dream?
Not at all. I actually gave modelling a shot first.
Yeah. Back in university, I often got told that I could be a model because of my physical appearance. My friends convinced me to try, seeing as I was tall and had the “perfect look.” I tried getting signed, but I got a few rejections that threw me off and made me realise it wasn’t for me.
Interesting. When did model management come into the picture?
My best friend was a model back in university, and I was her go-to person whenever she had a casting or photoshoot coming up. I’d train her, get her ready and sometimes even go to set with her.
She often praised me for this and raved about how I’d make a great model manager. However, it didn’t really click that it was an option because I was simply having fun and being there for my best friend.
Many months later, I followed a friend to a program where models were getting trained for a fashion show. I noticed several flaws in the training process and corrected them, subtly taking charge. The show organiser noticed my involvement and asked me to take on the model manager role.
Did you get paid?
No, I didn’t.
I know, I know. I just wanted to have fun and use my school break wisely. Besides that, I enjoyed every bit of the job. It was fun teaching newbies the fundamentals of modelling and getting them ready for the runway.
Is model management still as fun for you as when you first started?
It is. However, it’s a lot more challenging because there is more to model management than teaching people how to walk the runway or even sending them abroad. You have to be very emotionally intelligent and learn how to manage people, young people especially.
The aspect of managing young people is particularly important to me because most of my agency’s models are teenagers.
You have your own agency?
Yes, I do. It’s called Cias Model Management.
Cool. When did you start?
Officially, I started in May 2020. But unofficially, 2016.
What do you mean by unofficially?
Remember what I said earlier about training my best friend and the models for the show? All their compliments started to resonate with me and I decided to give model management a shot when I was still in the university.
Bold of you.
I know. I founded Cias in 2016, when I was still in university. It didn’t do as well as I wanted it to and because I had to go to Law school the next year, I had to basically shut it down.
Looking back, I’m glad the whole process happened though.
I mean because of my little experience, I got to work with some of the leading players in the Nigerian modelling industry.
Has the journey been different since you restarted in 2020?
Absolutely. It has been more fulfilling and filled with notable achievements.
Tell me about some of these achievements.
Some of my “boys” have walked runways like Prada, Gucci, Raf Simons, Dolce & Gabbana and so on.
Your boys? Is your agency solely focused on male models?
At the moment, yes.
Has that been the plan from the onset?
Not at all. We started as a mixed agency, but we weren’t discovering the kind of female models I was looking for, for some reason. As a result, I decided to shut down the female division for a bit.
However, we plan on recruiting female models soon. The goal is to be as diverse as possible.
What are your criteria for selecting a modelling talent?
I never know how to explain this properly. But in a nutshell, a model must have good skin, meet the minimum height requirement, have nice facial features and most importantly, a charming personality. Clients are obsessed with models that have an amazing personality.
That is why I always tell my boys: “Your physical features will get you into a room but your personality is what keeps you there.”
True. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your journey?
I’ve learned to be patient.
What incident taught you this?
A couple of incidents, to be honest. The major one, however, was back in January. We sent one of our boys to Europe to start his career internationally. He went to Milan and didn’t get to book anything. He went to Paris and didn’t book there either. This was despite the intense preparation beforehand. We did everything possible, but things just didn’t seem to work out. I was disgruntled.
Interestingly, he got to walk for Gucci a few weeks later, teaching me the virtue of patience. And it’s amazing to see his career gradually fall into place. Sometimes, things might not go your way, but when it’s your time, it’s your time.
Preach! What’s the backend process for international bookings?
There’s no uniform process as clients differ and each season comes with its own peculiarities. For the shows, ensure you prepare your models, make them attend their castings and pray if you’re religious.
Yes o. There are thousands of models being sent to Europe every season. It definitely takes more than just luck. The modelling space is that crazy.
Tems definitely had the modelling industry in mind when she sang “Crazy Tings.”
[Laughs] You can say that again.
Do you have a direct link with the international brands you’ve worked with?
Not exactly. We partner with foreign agencies that are in direct contact with them.
Oh. So these agencies are essentially the intermediaries?
Do you get paid in foreign currency or naira?
You must be in money then!
I wish. The model management business is a game of numbers. The more models you have, the more money you get. We take a certain commission on whatever rate is billed to the client. So, I’ll say I’m in money only when I have many models.
You do model management full-time, yeah?
How do you survive slow months?
I have other businesses: legal consultancy and an e-commerce store.
You offer legal consultancy?
Yes. I’m a lawyer.
Was there ever a time you practiced law full-time?
Yes. I once worked in a law firm and a fintech company before resigning to focus on my agency full-time.
Has your legal background ever come in handy while running Cias?
Absolutely. My legal knowledge enables me to prepare contracts for clients and models seamlessly.
If you could restart your journey, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I believe every event in my career led me to where I am. I’d have just been more patient and trusted the process.
What is your piece of advice for aspiring models?
You need to figure out if modelling is the right path for you. Having the height doesn’t mean you have what it takes to build a career in modelling. Introspect well and do the necessary research before deciding to build a modelling career.
Once you gain clarity, focus on improving and if you get signed to an agency, trust your mother agency. While at it, don’t compare your day 1 with someone else’s day 50. Learn to exercise patience.