A new Indigenous modelling agency is focusing on bringing healthy cultural representation to the fashion industry.
Alicia Hanton, 23, is a member of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta who is based in Chilliwack, B.C.
She dabbled in modelling when she was 14, but it became her focus when she was 17 after meeting Joleen Mitton, co-founder of Supernaturals, an Indigenous modelling agency that aims to uplift emerging Indigenous talent through skills development, employment, and healing.
"I'm grateful that I found this community because I don't know where I'd be without them," said Hanton.
Hanton, who entered the foster care system when she was nine, said working with Mitton felt more wholesome than trying to navigate the fashion industry on her own.
"It was a little rough in the beginning because I had no idea what the industry was like," said Hanton.
"I had seen America's Next Top Model and that was pretty much it."
Hanton said Mitton understands what the models need to feel nurtured and cared for.
"We're going to be working with elders doing things like spirit lodges and stuff I've never even done yet," she said.
"We're just breaking every norm that you would see in a regular agency."
Mitton is from Sawridge First Nation in northern Alberta but was raised in East Vancouver and spent eight years modelling abroad.
She founded Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week in 2017 and spends her weekends with the Indigenous Urban Butterflies Day Camp, a program for children in foster care and the Mentor Me program, which is for Indigenous girls aging out of foster care.
She said she wanted to create something different than the agencies she was with and saw a need for Supernaturals, which she founded with film director and photographer Patrick Shannon. She said a lot of her clients were in foster care.
"Me and Patrick are very protective of these girls. We're going to make sure we have more of a relationship with our clients than I would say anybody was with me," she said.
Mitton said she and her partner will vet each of the companies they work with to ensure the models will be going into safe and respectful environments.
Shannon, a Haida photographer from Skidegate in Haida Gwaii, owns a film production company and has worked in both the fashion and film industries.
"We want to make sure that they're equipped as best as possible," said Shannon.
He said they want to help the models develop practical skills like learning to walk the runway and pose but also incorporate wellness through proper nutrition and cultural and spiritual support.
They plan on expanding their roster to include more diverse models of different ages and body types.
"Unlike with a lot of agencies where models have to pay and do a lot of their own stuff to get photos and all that kind of stuff, that's something that we're hoping to provide for our models that we invest in," said Shannon.
"We want to remove these barriers as much as possible and make sure that if you're someone who is really dedicated to this and this is actually what you want to do, we want to support you through every step of that from beginning to end."