Back in June, Gucci Beauty posted on Instagram a portrait of 18-year-old Ellie Goldstein, who has Down’s syndrome. That image has so far achieved more than 118,000 likes, making it one of the brand’s most popular posts ever, even beating Harry Styles.
“The industry is changing and becoming more diverse and inclusive, and the public are demanding that now,” says Zoe Proctor, co-founder of Zebedee Management, the model agency that represents Ellie. “They are bored of that perfect, unachievable beauty standard. That’s why our guys break all records when they are used in campaigns.”
Based in Sheffield and founded in 2017, Zebedee works with global and UK brands including Tommy Hilfiger, Vogue, Mercedes Benz, Hollister, Boots and Superdrug.
“We represent people of all ages, all genders and all abilities,” says Zoe. “We have people on our books who have a disability or a visible difference, or non-visible – anybody we think has been left out of the fashion world and would struggle getting into a mainstream agency.”
Zoe and co-founder Laura Johnson are sisters-in-law. Laura lives in Sheffield with Zoe’s brother, Adam Winson, a tree consultant, and their two children, Edith, four, and Bernard, two. Zoe lives in Cleethorpes with her husband, Duncan, who works offshore, and their two daughters, India, 15, and Lily, 14.
Before Zebedee, Laura was a mental health social worker and Zoe was a performing arts lecturer, specialising in teaching people with learning disabilities.
“We were having a walk on the beach and I was having a moan about the lack of opportunities for the guys that I teach,” Zoe says. “That’s when we thought, well, if no one else is doing this, why don’t we set something up for people who have a disability and are interested in getting into the fashion and media industries. So that’s what we did.”
Both had previous experience of the modelling world as Zoe had modelled from the age of 16 and Laura’s children were models as babies.
The name Zebedee stuck after Zoe asked her performing arts students to come up with a bouncy name and they thought of the Magic Roundabout character.
The agency now represents more than 500 models in the UK and the US, pioneering visibility for a truly diverse range of models – something, surely, that should have happened long ago? “People were scared,” Zoe says. “Everyone wants to do the right thing but sometimes doing the right thing means doing nothing at all. We are not experts and we have learned along the way.
“The reaction from the disability community was incredible. Once we had met the talent that we wanted to represent, we knew we had so much potential.”
Zebedee gathered together some of its models for a distanced shoot in Sheffield with a Christmas party theme. Emmerdale actress Sophie Powles went to help with the styling and Zoe says it was a lot of fun.
“It’s a myth that people who have disabilities aren’t into fashion and we wanted to prove people wrong, show potential and show how much fun and energy our models can bring to a high fashion shoot,” Zoe adds.
“We genuinely work with the best people you could ever meet. They don’t all like the word ‘inspiring’, but they really are inspiring humans doing incredible things. And the bravery of people, especially those who have been through major trauma and illness, is humbling. It’s an absolute pleasure to get brilliant work for brilliant people.”
Sophie Carrigill, 26, is based in Sheffield as an athlete in the women’s wheelchair basketball team for Team GB. Her boyfriend, para-triathlete Josh Landmann, is also with Zebedee.
Sophie says: “I had a car accident when I was 16. It was completely life-changing and at the time I was not meant to survive. It was over in America and the doctors there saved my life. I’m fortunate to be alive and I live my life by that mantra – make the most of it, I nearly wasn’t here.
“I love getting my make-up and my hair done. Put me in front of a camera and I love it. Before my accident I did a lot of TV stuff and I was a dancer. I was with Scala in Leeds and did Heartbeat and The Royal. One day that might pick up again.
“One of my ultimate dreams would be to feature in Coronation Street or Emmerdale. I think the more diversity that is seen on screen, the better.”
*Follow Sophie on Instagram @sophcaz
Niamh Woods, 20, from Bradford, lives in York and studies Linguistics and Philosophy at the University of York. Niamh has ecto-dermal skin dysplasia which affects the skin and causes hair loss. She joined Zebedee a year ago.
Niamh says: “I was obsessed with all the modelling TV shows. I never thought I’d be able to do it, mainly because of my height. I’m 5ft 6in. As I got older, I thought I’d never do it because of the way I look in general, then I saw Zebedee on Instagram.”
Niamh began losing her hair when she was 11. “I don’t think I accepted it until I was about 16 and that was when I decided to get a wig because we had prom. I was worried people would look at me more, but I got the courage to do it, and then I also shaved my head. I’d definitely say it’s my look.”
Modelling has changed her life, she says. “I’m so much more confident and a lot happier with myself in general.”
*Follow Niamh on Instagram @niamhhhwoods
Sarah Dransfield, 25, from Holmfirth, works for the Laura Crane Youth Cancer Trust and for her family business, Marstons Chicken shop. She has worked in campaigns for River Island, Samsung, McCain and BP and last month featured in Vogue Italia.
Sarah says: “I was just 16 when I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, in my right knee. I had my amputation just one month before my 17th birthday. At the point where I was just starting to build my own future, it was all taken away from me.
“Signing up to Zebedee, five years post amputation, changed that. Suddenly I had found a new confidence and I felt proud of the body I had struggled with for many years. It was the boost that I needed and it has led me to many new opportunities.
“I would love to be seen as a role model for disabled people across the UK.”
*Follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahdransfield
*Find out more at www.zebedeemanagement.co.uk
Credits for the Sheffield shoot: Photography: Rob Smalley @roblsmalley Styling: Emmerdale actress Sophie Powles @sophie.powles / Dom Browning @dominicbrowningtextiles / Zoe Proctor @zebedee_management Hair: Chloe Louise Gorton Make-up: Leanne Shaw Clothes and jewellery from: House of Sheldon Hall, www.houseofsheldonhall.com / Art School, artschool-london.com / ASOS / Ebb & Flo, ebbandfloliving.co.uk Location: Sheffield city centre and Bloc Studios, www.blocstudios.co.uk
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