Models are there to sell you a fantasy, a dream; make you want to be them, have what they have. But no one can really relate to that perfect model with the straight white teeth and the dead eyes trying to sell you toothpaste. Over the last couple of years it has become increasingly apparent that nobody really cares for the dainty white beauty ideal set by fashion and advertisement industries and, as a result, we are witnessing a continual sea of change. Not only have the public started to speak up and designers been confronted about diversity, now we can see alternative models and their agencies becoming more in demand than ever before.

We spoke to Thais Mendes, founder and Creative and Casting Director at Squad Brazil about the industry and a youth that is hungry for more. Squad Brazil is “Brazil’s first street casting and digital influencers network” – contributing to this change by representing ‘alternative’ models. These models represent a more accurate sample of the population pool than the mainstream agencies; tattooed, pierced, queer, cis, non-cis models, every shade of skin tone, with and without body hair. The problem doesn’t lie with the dainty white models themselves, but in the industry’s tendency to favour them as the only option. Thankfully, now Squad Brazil and others are remaking the mould in a more inclusive image.

When and how did you decide to start this agency?

I started it pretty much because no one else was doing it. Brazil has a history of exporting supermodels, and there’s a huge amount of pressure for people to conform to ideal and impossible beauty standards. I knew there was a new generation of young people changing the game; influenced by the internet, rebelling against the status quo. To me they were incredibly exciting but the industry was ignoring them, so I decided it was time to shine a light and see what happened. 

Why is it important to offer clients alternative selections of models?

Because otherwise things would remain the same. There wasn’t a great variety of faces in fashion and advertising and I knew, without the professional front of an agency, the industry wouldn’t listen. All they would see was a bunch of rebellious kids. We had to get together and start a revolution. 

What can Brazil offer the world in terms of new models? What is the Brazilian youth like?

Brazil is an incredibly mixed country. We’ve been influenced by all the cultures and communities that have established themselves in the country for the past 500 years, be they European, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, you name it. So on one side you’ve got incredibly good-looking young people, and on the other you’ve got a new generation full of energy and eager to carve a new path for themselves. They want to reject everything that has been imposed on them; they’re full of ideals but also very informed, thanks to the internet. They take concepts that have probably originated in other countries and interpret them in their own way and use their environment to influence everything they do. They have finally absorbed the message that to be yourself is to be cool. 

There has been a shift in the industry with more people demanding more diversity and influencers finally starting to listen. What more do you think needs to change before we can be satisfied?

It’s not that the fashion and advertising industries have suddenly developed a conscience, it’s just that they’ve realised that having one sells. I suppose the endgame would be not to have to question why some people are fronting magazine covers and selling big products, but to be able to take diversity as the standard. That would motivate young people to understand that accepting themselves is the coolest thing ever.

How did you come across the models in this shoot?

Some work with me throughout the year and then a couple, like Daniel and Ana Bacaro in this shoot, have been pointed out by their friends. These days we get hundreds of emails and direct messages every day with applications – it’s hard to go through them all. But we eventually do. We’re aiming to put scouts on the streets of Brazil to search for those kids that are more offline than online, because Instagram casting is becoming so prevalent. We want kids that are not yet tainted by internet fame; kids with genuine personalities and who are authentically passionate about things.