Several would-be models from a Kenyan Kakuma refugee camp have reportedly been sent to Europe by MODELLING agencies.

Credit: The Times

Top fashion labels allegedly use model recruits from the camp according to a report by the Sunday Times. Dozens of models were interviewed. Some of them, “already working in Europe, with varying degrees of financial success, while others had returned to Kenya having made nothing”. Often, these women discover that they’re not successful and must return to the camp thousands of euros in debt to the agencies.

Scouting from the camp, “means they [the agencies] are giving refugees a better chance in life” in addition to adding diversity to catwalks.

Who’s Involved?

Credit: Instagram @isismodelsafrica

One of the organisations under scrutiny is Isis women. It’s a company owned and operated by Nigerian entrepreneur Joan Okorodudu, out of her Walthamstow residence. Several women have posted videos online praising Joan in response to criticism directed at Isis.

The investigation states that potential models are transported to Nairobi after being scouted by agencies within the camp. Before travelling to Europe, usually ahead of fashion weeks, they make passport and visa arrangements there in order to attend castings. The models receive roughly €70 to €100 as pocket money every week by these agencies, given that the modelling profession is founded on debt. Models are expected to repay this once they begin working and getting paid.

The Claims…

It was also found that Ms. Okorodudu, also referred to as “Mama Joan” by the models, would sign them up with Isis Models as their mother agency before promoting them to bigger agencies. It also states that some people have expressed dissatisfaction with Ms. Okorodudu; one such person is 23-year-old Biliny Manyang, who wrote to the UN with her concerns.

After being scouted by Isis Models in Kakuma in 2019, Biliny ended her contract with the agency in 2021. She believed that the firm would not help her travel to Europe. She alleges that Ms. Okorodudu threatened to remove additional models if she and her contacts in the industry continued to deal with Biliny after she left Isis Models.

As a result, Biliny found it more challenging to advance in her career. She has since signed with a new agency in Paris. She expressed her desire to stop “manipulating models”. To prevent others from going through the same experience, she wrote an email to the UNHCR. She claims that what potential models are given does not reflect reality. She also urged the agency to follow up with migrants who are joining the modelling industry.

What does Isis have to say?

Credit: Instagram @isismodelsafrica

In an interview with the Times regarding Biliny, Ms. Okorodudu claims to have receipts as proof that she “took care” of the model, organising her passport among other things.

Ms Okorodudu is also says (in the report as saying:

“I am the only person in the industry who takes care of these models financially and assists their families. Modelling and helping the youth is my passion”. 

Matteo Puglisi, the head of Select agency, claimed that debt statements is a “fiscal obligation”. Although the agency requests payment twice, they never pursue legal action to collect money. Every year, the agency loses ‘hundreds of thousands of euros and pounds in Paris and London for unrecoverable model advances’ – with models from around the world, and not just from Africa.

Subscribe to FIB’s Weekly Breaking News Report for your weekly dose of music, fashion and pop culture news!