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Ethnicity Models CEO LaShawnna Stanley has extended her brand to web commerce.

Ethnicity Model Management CEO LaShawnna Stanley has been providing top minority modeling talent to companies including MTV and BET for more than a decade, striving to showcase a diverse view of beauty.

The 40-year-old industry vet took what she learned — and earned — in corporate America to start her own clothing boutique and eventually, the agency, a company whose image was once tied to that of steamy music videos and outrageous vixens. Over the years, Stanley has transcended these stereotypes, expanding its client list to include Chevrolet, Burger King, KFC and international fashion houses.

BlackEnterprise.com spoke with Stanley about why she has stayed true to her niche, how she continues to champion integrity in the industry, and how the web has helped her continue to grow her business.

Why did you start Ethnicity Models and what niche did you operate in when you started?

I wanted to model when I was younger, and there was no market for ethnic girls unless you were 5’9 or a size 2.

I have models in store [in Miami] and I liked the way the girls wore the clothes in my shop – the plump women. I organized fashion shows to promote the clothes in the store. And from there, Ethnicity Models was born.

There really was no market for ethnic women back then. I started around the same time hip hop was going mainstream, and they wanted the designs to reflect the urban market.

Your agency is often attached to the negative image of the ‘video girl’. How did you manage to overcome the stereotype and keep your business growing for so long?

At first, you didn’t see us in ads and print ads. They let us enter the video market. Did we make mistakes and do hot shoots? Yes. But we have learned from our mistakes.

These mistakes helped me learn to monitor my brand to make sure it didn’t turn in the wrong direction. I decided to be selective and not do hot shoots. I would ask for lyrics or information about what the video would entail. I would also ask about the style of the models.

Now we’ve done fashion shows internationally and had clients contracted to model for films, commercials and marketing campaigns. Keeping it classy, ​​not steamy, left the door open to do other things. By really taking a stand and not compromising what I thought was right, even though I was trying to grow a business, it got noticed.

You’ve grown your business by venturing onto the web with Ethnicity Talent, which includes social networking for models and other industry professionals. What made you do this?

Now that everything is on the Net and easily goes viral, you can use it to maximize your exposure. Everything is viral and mobile. You can start almost any type of business from home with very little overhead in this business.

It’s a way for models and other professionals to make themselves known and have access to our talent.

What should an entrepreneur know or have before setting up a model management company?

  • Protect your brand and demonstrate integrity. Integrity is number 1. It will get you far, says Stanley. “There’s a fine line between people who don’t want to deal with you and people who respect you. Be sympathetic but firm,” she adds.
  • You must have human qualities. Ninety-nine percent of business in this industry is referrals, she says.
  • Get informed and do your research. Log in and find out who is who and what is in demand.
  • Be aware of the type of clientele you want to attract. Get a nice selection of templates with tasteful images. Once you have obtained the models and created a website, contact and develop a network.
  • Become the best at what you do so people want to come back. I had confidence in my product. I was like, ‘I have the best role models, so you have to call me back.’