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While working as receptionist for a major New York modeling agency six years ago, Rachael Lewis saw very few African American children pass through the doors and was hard-pressed to find more than a handful on the pages of print advertisements. Capitalizing on a virtually untapped market, Lewis launched Rachel’s Totz ‘n’ Teenz Model Management Inc. Lewis’ agency, which also represents Asian, Hispanic and Caucasian kids, emphasizes African American placements from six months to 14 years of age.
To finance the agency, Lewis, 32, approached four banks but was turned down. She then borrowed $150,000 from her parents and launched the agency from her Manhattan apartment in 1993.
To acquire models, Lewis held open auditions, urged parents to submit pictures of their children and contacted friends and relatives. Using the extensive print advertising contacts she had developed while working as a receptionist, she began sending her models on auditions and was soon acquiring one-year contracts from major clients such as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Avon and Toys ‘R’ Us.
The majority of the agency’s business is generated from magazine, catalog and newspaper ads, but several of the models have auditioned for television pilots and worked as extras on popular shows such as New York Undercover With the business quickly growing, Lewis moved her offices and staff of three into a mid-Manhattan suite in 1994.
Lewis spends 12-hour days fielding calls from clients, holding meetings with parents and their children and setting up bookings for photo shoots. She currently has 150 children and teens under contract. Her revenues in 1996 were $400,000, 20% of the modeling fees.
Lewis believes her agency is a trendsetter. “I market the kids to highlight their diversity and that might entail changing their hairstyle or outfitting them in eye-catching clothes,” says Lewis. “We pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge.”
Rachael’s Totz ‘n’ Teenz Model Management Inc., 134 W. 29th St., Suite 903, New York, NY 10001; 212-967-3167