The military square jaw is as iconic as it is photogenic. Bootcamp’s chiseled abs are magazine worthy. And if soldiers can be taught to walk, then surely they can be taught to walk the trail.
At least, that’s what Jas Boothe thinks. She is the founder of Prowess, the nation’s first all-veteran talent and modeling agency. As the only agency of its kind, Prowess specializes in providing veterans with the tools and resources they need to find jobs as professional models. He trains them in the basics of modeling: how to walk, how to pose, how to make the right facial expressions. It also helps in providing portfolio photos.
Browse the Prowess website and you’ll quickly connect the odd dots between military and model. The soldiers have an impressive athletic physique. Calling someone a “jarhead” is another way of saying they have “perfect cheekbones.” It’s easy to imagine veterans trading in their fatigues for camouflage stitching.
Boothe never expected to run an agency like Prowess. Disabled Army veteran started her first business after receiving a particularly rough hand that included a cancer diagnosis and a home lost to Hurricane Katrina. In her desperation, she was shocked to find that there were no resources for female veterans. She decided to take matters into her own hands. She founded Final Salute, a non-profit organization that connects female veterans to adequate housing. “If you see a problem, find a solution,” she says. “As a formerly homeless woman, I never saw myself running a non-profit organization.” Likewise, she did not expect to train soldiers to march on the trail.
Through her work, Boothe tapped into a community of female veterans with modeling experience. But some were too scared to share their modeling portfolios, and many didn’t know how to land a modeling job. Law enforcement? Sure. Defense agencies? Yes. But how does a veteran transition into a modeling role? During this time, Boothe also observed that the fashion industry, with its sportswear and military-inspired designs, was neglecting the very people who related to the badge not as loot, but as their earning. -bread. Boothe envisioned an outlet that could remove the limitations placed on veterans, a space that reflects their many other talents and interests, beyond their military training.
Boothe teamed up with Denyse Gordon, a seasoned support professional. Together, they decided that a seasoned modeling agency could help fill those unmet needs. So they got to work. They did their research, spending hours on YouTube watching videos of models walking down the catwalk. They understood that the key was to swing the hips, not the arms. Local modeling experts, photographers and videographers volunteered to help fill in the gaps in their own industry knowledge.
Finally, they were ready to start taking models. They launched a casting call.
“We didn’t think anyone was going to show up,” Boothe said. “They came in droves.”
Today, the program has around 20 models and is making waves in the industry: Lord and Taylor, DC Fashion Week, Izavel Varela, and several digital magazines and photography projects have all hired Prowess models. But Boothe admits the industry has a long way to go before it fully accepts — and recruits — veteran models. It has nothing to do with the models themselves, she says. “They have what you are looking for,” she said. “They’ll work as hard as any other role model. They fit the mould. It’s a big pool of talent that no one has tapped into.”
In some ways, Boothe thinks Prowess is “scary because it’s new”. “The fashion industry might share some of the stigma that other employers have [about hiring veterans]Research supports this sentiment. A study conducted by the Center of Talent Innovation highlights the challenges veterans face when entering the workforce, such as false assumptions about their emotional health, political biases and their personality traits.Their skills go unnoticed and unused.As a result, many veterans downplay their military service when they enter the workforce, hide their wounds, and dismiss the community that once filled their lives.
With Prowess, these stumbling blocks become pedestals. “We’re surrounded by veterans who know what we’ve been through,” Boothe says. While other industries are cannibalistic, veterans aren’t bred that way. Prowess acts as an extension of the family, an ongoing unit of support.
Prowess veteran and role model Sean Dickinson says he found exactly that community. The friendships he forged during his Prowess training are still strong to this day. Sean enjoys photography as a serious hobby, and Prowess – both in theory and in practice – has encouraged him to pursue interests outside of his military background. He likes to be on both sides of the camera, he says. He had modeled before Prowess existed, but the agency opened a door for him that otherwise might have closed due to his military background.
For still other veterans, the reasons for pursuing modeling run deeper. Modeling helps give a much-needed confidence boost. “Some of us were badly injured,” Boothe says. These individuals “no longer see themselves as beautiful and capable… But once you create a model and bring them into the modeling area, and they see the photos”, they rediscover a person they never didn’t know they still had in them.
Prowess creates a healing outlet in addition to a form of employment. Take Marissa, a plus-size model who lost both of her feet on duty. Being a plus size model is a challenge in itself. Amputated, Marissa faces a double handicap. But that hasn’t stopped her from building up a portfolio and hoping he’ll land her a job. “You don’t need feet to kick ass,” is one of his favorite sayings. “What badassery is more inspiring than a woman like Marissa, who pursues her dreams and goals despite all these challenges?” Boothe asks.
At the end of the day, Boothe sees his work operating in a larger framework. “There was a need, and I found a way to fill it,” she says. “Because that’s what we do. As providers and supporters, we find a way to make life a little easier for our fellow human beings.”