Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Interview with the Steve Jobs of Modeling

All Photos are of Covermodel Managment models except for those of Viresh Pujara himself, the founder. Photos from the facebook group CoverModels Management Inc.

When one thinks of startup CEOs making it big in Ottawa, one thinks Shopify, technology. Ottawa is a town known for government, technology and not for fashion. Viresh Pujara has one of the most compelling stories in the fashion world and in the Canadian startup world. He was born in Mombasa Kenya and his family immigrated to Canada as a child. He knew his passion from childhood, and like Steve Jobs, didn't finish university and instead made the bold move to not follow the conventional path of studying to be a doctor or lawyer but instead took the risk to follow his dream.

Our interview with the Steve Jobs of Modeling, Viresh Pujara

Could you tell us a little bit about Cover Models, and how did you start it?

VP- CoverModels Management was established in 2002. It is the only boutique agency in Ottawa. We do not run a modeling school. I have always been passionate about the model aspect of the fashion business. I was an editor at CLIQUE Magazine and after 2 years in that position, I had to follow my dream. There was not any agencies in Ottawa that did not sell courses, and to date CoverModels is the only model management firm in Ottawa that operates in this fashion.


Ardiso-  -when did you know what your passion was before you chased your dream?

Viresh Pujara -

Ardiso - When..

Viresh Pujara didn't wait around in Ottawa. He travelled to where the action was at in his industry, New York and Paris. Here is his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs on how he succeeded in New York

Pujara introduced himself in New York city to other agents. He didn't wait, he was politely persistent until they saw his work. They began to trust his taste as he build relations. The mistake of many startups is to spend all their effort building a high quality product and sit in their small town, with the false belief "if you build it they will come." In addition to having a good service/product - contracting high caliber professional level models, Pujara had the courage to fly to the Silicon Valley of the fashion industry, make calls, pitch his startup, pitch his product/service (amazing models) and make it happen. All this at the age where Zuckerberg was sitting in his dorm room at Harvard, studying. Pujara had far more courage. He didn't go on an Ivy League university, his last name isn't Hilton, he made his name like Conrad Hilton did .... he just went to New York, and took his minute from New York, then an hour, until he finally took success from New York. Above is one of his models Amanda in New York at a runway from Christian Dior.

Much like Shopify that went to the Silicon Valley for investment then built the rest of their startup in Ottawa, Viresh did the same in New York, for his fashion startup that became the famed Covermodels Management agency. They work with Elite Models and the top model agencies in the world.

Top Canadian models by Flare Magazine. Amanda Nimmo is a Covermodel that Pujara discovered in Ottawa


  What are your most exciting achievements to date as a model agent? As an agency?


It always gives me great pleasure to see a model grow and turn into an international working business person. To see a model develop from a new face to a regular working model with a strong grasp of the business is refreshing. Many models have a skewed perception of what the business is like.

(Below is one of his models)

Ardiso: When you were a young man of what 17, 18, how did you have the confidence to just go to New York, and to not give up until agents saw your work? What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur today who also flies to New York to pursue their dreams?


 In Ottawa, there are many modeling schools, not model agencies, where the school takes money for "modeling lessons" that are really not needed in the industry. Only a couple of the their models work. In Ottawa diplomats, members of parliament, bureaucrats send their daughters to modeling schools, as they can afford it. Most models in Ottawa do free shows. Fashion week in Ottawa is doesn't pay models, neither do most fashion events that say "we help build your resume" or "we're a charity event". Viresh's models therefore mainly work outside of Ottawa. 

Covermodel Lucy in Malaysia

Covermodel Lucy for Marie Claire Indonesia
Models in Ottawa invest up to $3000 in "model lessons" and they are often do not have the look of that paiying employers of models are looking for to sell their product. When Pujara had the vision and ambition as a highschool graduate to start an actual model agency, not model school in Ottawa, few people in Ottawa thought he'd make it. Viresh didn't listen and flew to New York, took a minute from New York, then from Paris, Shanghai and the fashion markets of the world. Only three years ago, model agencies united and refused to send any models from the financially profitable Toronto Fashion Week unless they were paid. Working full time for weeks without pay is a form of exploitation. Covermodels doesn't send their models on unpaid assignments "for exposure." It's a straightforward job placement agency for models. If Pujara's models don't work, he starves.

As many youth want to be famous and want to model, many model schools take their and/or their families money for "lessons" when the model might be the wrong look or height or otherwise not conform to what those who want to pay for a model to advertise their products in major markets like New York and Paris are looking for. Viresh's agency is ethical and takes care of its models. 
photo of Ashlee for Beyond the Rack

Pujara calls and checks on his models around the world in places like Shanghai and calls them three times a week. Abroad, models can fall accidents can happen, so how does Covermodels deal with it?

When a model fell, Pujara called her personally, made the arrangements and insured she went to a reputable local hospital and her ankle was fine. She was able to continue working and in Canada doctors said she was in good shape. It is important to have an agency to check up on your models, make sure they are safe, and say no to danger. Many models in China complain their mother agency doesn't take an interest what happens to them abroad. Not the case with Pujara. Therefore models always return to work with him.

Models develop their portfolio in emerging markets like China. Not model "lessons". They gain experience through paid employment in emerging markets until they become good, and are then sent to New York City. If a model can't afford something she needs for work, like a job interview outfit, Pujara finds her a summer job. In modeling schools, models pay for everything, to walk charity shows and can't earn a living.

Ardiso asked Viresh Pujara "what does he think of modeling in Ottawa, his hometown?

VP - The fashion scene in Ottawa is cute. It's wonderful that there is a hobby scene that loves style. Unfortunately there is yet to be a professional fashion scene in Ottawa, and until they pay models even minimum wage in Ottawa, professional models aren't going to work for free. There is a difference between a hobbyist who works full time at another job or studies and a working professional. The hobbyist will become good at what they work on the most: their studies or job that pays them, hence their modeling will remain at an amateur level. 
Janice in Jakarta, Indonesia

I send my models to China, India, Indonesia where their fulltime job is modeling, that covers their living. They aren't volunteering, they are working full time. Since it's their job and they get paid for it, after a year or two they are ready for competitive markets for New York. Working also teaches models punctuality, professionalism, and succeeding in workplace dynamics. All my models work. I don't hire models I can't find work for.

VP - Ottawa Fashion week charges tickets of $100 per person yet refuses to pay their models even minimum wage. A fashion week is not Christmas caroling after school: it is actual work, many hours of it, just like hour of work for a waitress or bureaucrat. Ottawa Fashion week expects women prepare and work for over 30 hours for free, from rehersals to fitting. In Ottawa no one posts an ad saying "volunteer as an office assistant for two weeks, no pay, get experience for your resume." No one with experience would apply, right? A person with the most basic qualifications will apply instead to small offices in the suburbs instead of the Chateau Laurier (landmark Fairmont Hotel). Then when they get good at their job in the dentist's office in the suburbs, they apply to prestigious Chateau Laurier Hotel with work experience, and get accept to work there. Now would a person working at the level and payscale of the prestigeous Chateau Laurier apply to "work two weeks fulltime, no pay, for 'exposure' and 'experience.'" No. Yet somehow the Ottawa fashion community expect quality from models who can't earn a living from modeling?

Lucy for Marie Claire Indonesia

VP-  As an agent, I can't exploit my clients, my models and send them to Ottawa Fashion Week for "exposure" where there is paid work for models in places for example in Asia, where they could get paid for learning on the job. I can't send my models to Ottawa Fashion Week, as I am their agent, and the job of a professional model agent is to find his models paid work. 

Amanda Nimmo for Fashion Magazine

You can't keep smart quality professional models by asking them to work for free for you. If fashion workers in Ottawa were paid fair wages, or even wages at all, a professional market would emerge. Since almost no one pays models in Ottawa at the moment, professional models of Ottawa origin work and build their career elsewhere. There is talent in Ottawa : I found many models that succeed in international markets from Ottawa. To keep talent in Ottawa, you have to pay a living wage. Three years ago, Toronto Fashion Week finally started paying their models, so my models modeled for Toronto Fashion Week. 

To move the Ottawa fashion scene from cute amateur to professional caliber needs to pay professionals wages for their work.

Amanada Nimmo for Roberto Cavalli

Ardiso: Where do your models work?

Casey Taylor

Casey Taylor worked in Paris, NY, Milan, London, Tokyo, LA, and Toronto, Tel Aviv, Barcelona
Daniela Freitas worked in Paris, NY, Milan, London, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Barcelona, Tel Aviv
Cassandra Tighe worked in Milan, Athens, London, Sydney, Tokyo, Auckland, Toronto, Montreal, NY
Adrian and Ben Oliver worked in NY, Athens, Toronto, Montreal, LA
Andrew Demarsh worked in Paris, Milan, Barcelona,  Athens, London, Toronto, Seoul


Laura Kell worked in Toronto, Montreal, Shanghai, Seoul
Andrea Brouwer worked in Toronto, Montreal, Tokyo, Seoul and New York
Anjela Chamberlain worked in Toronto, Montreal, NYC and Seoul
Amanda Nimmo has worked in Toronto, Montreal, NYC, London, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Tokyo, Auckland and Sydney

Parndeep at Prune Fashion Week in India

Lucy has worked in Jakarta and Singapore and Vancouver and Kuala Lampur 
Kortney has worked in Shanghai and Jakarta and Vancouver
Pardeep has worked in Mumbai and Toronto
Archana has worked in Mumbai and Delhi Shanghai
Himanshu has worked in Mumbai and Delhi
Ashlee has worked in Miami, London, Seoul, Shanghai, Toronto and Montreal

Ashlee for Vogue Japan
Pat Shaw has worked in Milan, Shanghai and Toronto
Chelsea Wager has worked in Toronto, Montreal, Shanghai
Hans Richard has worked in Toronto, Montreal, Milan and Shanghai
Zoya is in Beijing

Amanda for Armani
Himanshu is in Beijing and worked in New Delhi
Janice is in Jakarta then Beijing then Shanghai
Thomas has worked in Milan, Beijing, Philippines, Bangkok and is off to Shanghai
James has worked all over the world and now at 52 is still working Paris, NY, Barcelona, London, Miami,LA Milan and soon off to Istanbul and Beijng

Himanshu for Reliance Trends
Anuj has worked Mumbai Delhi and off to Istanbul
Daniel has worked in Philippines, and Bangkok and now is in China
Mariya has worked in Hong Kong, Bangkok and is off to Asia soon
Daria has worked in Beijing and will be off to Asia again soon.
All our models work.


Ardiso: What brands were the most exciting for your models to work with
Versace, Hugo Boss, David Dixon, Joe Fresh, Roberto Cavalli, Kenzo, Victoria Beckham, Chloe, Abercrombie and Fitch, Hollister, Diane Von Furstenberg, Christopher Kane, to name a few.

Amanda Nimmo DVF
Ardiso: Could you name a model or two that you found in Ottawa that had a great success story in international markets?

Casey Taylor for Moschino

VP: Casey Taylor was discovered by CoverModels Management in May 2002, our first male model. He has worked for top clients and has worked in all major fashion markets and ofcourse Amanda Nimmo was discovered by CoverModels in Ottawa and she is rising to the top very quickly and is joining the ranks of top working models worldwide. Casey is still working after 12yrs in the business and Amanda has a very strong future in the fashion business

Amanda Nimmo for Russian Marie Claire

Ardiso: What is the highlight of your career as an entrepreneur staring Covermodels?
VP: Every day and every moment is a highlight! I love my career. 

Viresh Pujara with Cassandra from Covermodels at Montreal Fashion Week

Ardiso: What do you enjoy the most about working in your industry?

VP:  I love my relationship with my clients. The international agents that come to Ottawa and I have a great relationship. we spend hours talking about the business and sharing stories. Many of them stay at my home while they are in town meeting with models. All of them say that CoverModels is run most like the agencies in larger international markets. They see a vast difference from the agencies that operate as a modeling school and CoverModels Management. Many lager agencies in Toronto/Montreal ask CoverModels to represent their models that happen to come to Ottawa for school, but unfortunately Ottawa clients are used to getting free models from the modeling schools which makes it difficult to get the rates that larger markets pay for professionals.

Lucy for Harper's Bazaar Indonesia

Ardiso: How many pairs of shoes do you own?
VP:  Shoes are not my fashion vice, blazers are. I own 2 pairs of dress shoes, 2 pairs of flip flops, 2 pairs of actual running shoes (adidas and nike), and 1 pair of casual spring/summer shoes.  1 pair of Harley Davidson motorcycle boots, 1 pair of oxblood coloured cowyboy boots 1 pair of Calvin Klein ankle boots

Viresh Pujara

Ardiso: Where will we see Covermodels in the future? IPO? What's next for you and Covermodels?
VP: We now have a west coast division in Vancouver and talks of opening an international office are very very close to fruition. As Viresh Pujara and the director of CoverModels I have some more plans to expand in this world we call fashion. 

Ashlee in NYC

Casey Taylor