Internationally renowned Indigenous changemakers Joleen Mitton and Patrick Shannon have teamed up to launch Supernaturals — a first-of-its-kind modelling agency in Vancouver on Unceded Coast Salish Territory.
An Indigenous boutique agency, it’s focusing on healthy and high-end cultural representation in both the commercial and fashion world, with a mission to celebrate and make visible Indigenous peoples in media arts, culture, community, land-based wisdom, and the global market.
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“It was out of necessity,” Mitton, a veteran Cree model and the founder of Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week, tells Daily Hive of the inspiration behind launching Supernaturals.
“We need to create a container after Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week with our youth who wanted to transition into the industry, a lot of them were being taken advantage of and treated like tokens.”
After working with Mitton on Indigenous fashion-related projects for several years, Shannon, a member of the Haida nation and the founder of InnoNative, an Indigenous BC-based film production company, says he recognized a growing appetite for diversity in media.
“Many agencies were embracing that trend, but we noticed a glaring lack of agencies that truly supported Indigenous models,” he notes.
“We are approaching an industry that traditionally has been very hostile — through healthy representation, accountability and oversight to empower and support a people that historically has been misrepresented and taken advantage of.”
Shannon continues, “The Indigenous experience is unique and our backgrounds, communities, and histories require a dedicated level of support that just didn’t exist for Indigenous peoples, and it was through these conversations together that Joleen and I felt we were uniquely well positioned to create this new agency.”
Supporting and uplifting talent from an Indigenous worldview — that prioritizes people and culture over profit — is a key focus at Supernaturals. When working with clients, the boutique agency offers them the opportunity to be a part of a healthy reconciliation within the media, fashion, and modelling industries.
And beyond modelling opportunities, the agency aims to uplift communities and emerging Indigenous talent through employment, development, and healing while facilitating Indigenous-ally relationships through education, collaboration, and healthy representation.
Launching Supernaturals during the pandemic presented many challenges, says Shannon, including the inability to easily gather in ways that are essential to creating a supportive space and community for models.
“As soon as we are free to travel and gather more, we plan on many skills and community-building cultural bootcamps, bringing on more regionally diverse models, incorporating elders in a more engaged capacity, and providing that close-knit supportive environment that is unique to our concept,” he says.
Supernaturals launched with a roster of eight models from nations including Cree, Dene, Métis, Salish, Sechelt, and Squamish, among others, with models having already worked with brands including Roots Canada and Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week.
The agency is currently opening applications for aspiring Indigenous models aged 17 or older and based within Canada. Those interested in applying can consult the “join” page on their website. For those who are successful, there’s an extensive training process to make sure that every Supernaturals model is “prepared to go out and thrive” in the industry.
“The best part about working with Supernaturals is that I’m working with my people and I’m represented by my people. We are a stronger community, we are a family,” Talaysay Campo, a model signed with Supernaturals, said in a press release.
She continued, “I’m looking forward to showing the world my culture and where I come from because not a lot of Indigenous models are represented in the media and that needs to change.”
Supernaturals’ co-founders Mitton and Shannon tell us they hope to expand the work they’re doing across Canada and eventually move into gaining international opportunities for their models to learn and grow with a supportive team behind them.
“We started Supernaturals because there was a need for an Indigenous specific agency to represent the distinct and unique needs of Indigenous people, and we hope that the work that we do here will help shape not only the perception of Indigenous peoples in popular media, but also the way that clients and organizations work with Indigenous talent,” says Shannon.
Mitton concludes, “We do this work because of our families and ancestors, they are working through us.”