Bianca Dabney has been in the modeling industry for seven years now. She currently has her own fashion company BIDA Boutique. She sees Calgary’s fashion industry as new and growing. Dabney notes that there is always room for improvement, specifically when it comes to race, age and body type.

bianca dabneyBianca Dabney has been in the modeling industry for seven years, she is passionate about the industry and owns her own clothing company BIDA Boutique. Photo by Olivia Baychu.

Sitting in a cafe, drinking her coffee, she says, “I feel like Calgary plays it safe with the models for the bigger jobs. I feel like there’s room for them to branch out, and I understand that Calgary is a developing city compared to Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto [but] that doesn’t mean they have to play it safe.”

“I feel like the diverse models that they choose, are to fill a diverse role—it’s not because they think that model is beautiful.”

Dabney has had experiences where clients would choose her if they were doing an urban photoshoot or if there were multiple models on set.

For Dabney it’s not to say that Calgary’s fashion industry is not diverse, but the jobs and representation are not at the same level as those who are not of colour.

Some of the stories Dabney shares are shocking. Sometimes the outcome of projects she works on are not what she expected.

She says, “I’ll see photos come back and people have photoshopped my skin colour to be either way lighter or way darker… You’re not good enough how you are.”

This can be quite discouraging for other models of colour who have been in situations like this before. This doesn’t send a positive message for people of colour.

For Dabney she gets less work than non-ethnic models, which can be discouraging, but she’s had to accept it. Her roles in shoots are more supportive or group roles.

However, the story isn’t the same when she travels outside of Calgary. Two years ago, Dabney modeled for L.A. Fashion Week and was overwhelmed by the number of diverse models walking the runway. “It was an amazing mixture of girls, heights, shapes, sizes, everything.”

That being said she doesn’t feel like Calgary is pushing away other races, but says they’re following old trends in casting “the typical model.”

She gives Calgary another five years before significant changes will be seen. She says, “from when I started modeling until now, I’ve seen the industry, and Calgary itself grow enormously.”

Shia Ali Shia Ali has been in the modeling industry for five years working as a lifestyle and commercial model. Photo by Olivia Baychu.

Amberley Rose from NUMA models says that modeling agencies such as NUMA models are welcoming all shapes, ethnicities and ages.

When it comes to clients she says, “Clients reach out to us, and our first step is determining what exactly he or she is looking for. After determining which type of model is needed, we then submit the opportunity to our applicable roster.”

From then on, it is up to the clients on who gets the job.

Shia Ali has been in the modeling industry for five years now. She is of East African and East Indian descent, while she too is an ethnic model her experiences in the industry are quite different.

Ali works on the other side of the industry, in lifestyle and commercial. Her work is mostly local and she does work for commercials, restaurants and theatres.

“The industry as a whole is basically separated into two parts, there’s the fashion aspect, and there’s the commercial aspect. The fashion aspect is where all those rules come in, the heights and sometimes weight,” says Ali.

Ali thinks that while Calgary has a reputation for being very western and heavily Caucasian, the city’s art industry is multicultural, with many people being open-minded and welcoming. She’s gotten many jobs because of her ethnic background.

However, Ali believes that being unique and different is almost a trend that more people want to see. Many freelance artists post their work on social media, where diversity is accepted, even embraced.

“With diversity, it’s still an issue and it will be for a while in Calgary. But I think it’s less an issue because of social conditioning and more an issue because of the culture in Calgary.”

Ali thinks that things are changing in Calgary and more people definitely want to see more diversity of models within the fashion and lifestyle industry. She thinks there is still a western stigma that plagues our city that being white and skinny is the standard of beauty.

When it comes to the industry she says, “In Calgary, unfortunately, there is this heavy western influence, which leads to beautiful tall white girls.”

Ali says that this is the standard of beauty that some women in the modeling industry have bestowed amongst themselves. However she acknowledges that times are changing.

While both women have experienced the industry differently, they both agree that Calgary could open itself to diversity and evolve from the stigma that being white is the highest standard of beauty.

With Calgary’s growing diverse population and trends of diversity, Ali and Dabney are expecting to see women of colour be more comfortable with themselves, and seeing better representation within the industry.

This story appears in the November-December 2018 print issue of the Calgary Journal, on stands now!

Editor: Andi Endruhn |

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