It’s ok to say no to clients or agencies. The entertainment industry is full of dreamers, who sometimes feel the need to please others or to say “yes” to every opportunity in order to pursue that dream, often at the expense of themselves. If, as a model, you don’t feel comfortable for any reason, it’s always better to speak up. This can seem really scary, but please know that there are people behind you who will support you. I know from experience that even if I was the first to stand up to a client or agent, there would always be others that would come forward once I broke the ice.
I had the pleasure to interview Laila Elguindi. Laila is a professional model who advocates for better education and safer practices for men and women in the modeling industry. Laila has over 15 years experience navigating all areas of the modeling industry and has worked with top agencies and designers around the world. Laila has degrees in both finance and business education, and has a passion for helping others succeed and paving the way for better industry standards and practices worldwide. Today, she serves as Model Advocate at AGENT, Inc., one of the fastest growing modeling platforms in the world. With Laila’s help, AGENT is paving the way for models everywhere by disrupting the multi-billion dollar modeling industry, making it much more transparent and safer while providing a more cost-effective and efficient way for companies to book models.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Laila! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
My dad grew up very poor as the oldest of 12 children in rural Egypt, and while he worked extremely hard to eventually become a successful physician in the United States, he never let us forget how hard life can be or what curveballs may lie ahead. We were always moving around while I was growing up, and we lived all over the world, including countries like Saudi Arabia, so I really got to experience a multitude of cultures and perspectives. I do feel like constantly being unsettled in a changing environment shaped who I am as a person today. It made me unafraid to try new things that perhaps others were unfamiliar or uncomfortable with. It made me have absolutely zero interest in what people thought about me, or if I “fit in” with a specific group or culture. It made me strong willed and gave me courage that I hope to instill in others around me.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I would routinely get approached by modeling scouts growing up, but my parents always turned them away. My dad particularly forbade me from pursuing the industry, always wanting me to focus on my studies. Naturally as a teenager, I was a little bit intrigued by something that I wasn’t supposed to do, so when I turned 18, I marched into Ford Models and decided to give modeling a shot. Throughout my career, I was again constantly told “no” by agencies and clients, but that never phased me, it only pushed me further and fueled my fire for achieving success.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Actually SO many interesting things have happened to me as a fly on the wall in this industry that I decided to write a novel about my experiences, in the form of a fictional narrative. I will say that over the years it always fascinated me how differently I was treated when placed into the role of “model.” Sometimes people gave me a ridiculous amount of adoration and respect when I hadn’t yet earned it, and other times people treated me as an object or doll instead of a human being. It’s amazing the conversations and actions I observed (including those of many celebrities) because they forgot I was in the room or didn’t think of me as having an active mind or memory.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The first traveling gig I booked was to get to go to shoot a lifestyle campaign in Negril, Jamaica along with another model, who was a good friend. We were young, and so absolutely excited about the trip that we didn’t really prepare ourselves at all in many ways. We threw some flip flops and bikinis in our duffel bags and had no idea what to expect. We wore sundresses on the plane and were FREEZING. I remember cuddling close together at the airport under an airline blanket trying to keep warm. When we arrived, they handed us beers and it was unlimited free alcohol from there, which was tough to turn down. The production team of the shoot offered us everything, and while it was fun, we didn’t think about how we were basically putting ourselves in the hands of these guys who were running the shoot, and at some points could have been in real danger. It taught me to open my eyes a bit and realize that nobody would be looking out for me in this industry, and it was up to me to do the research and stay safe. I think a lot of young models just starting out don’t realize this, and there definitely aren’t any clear rules or guidelines for the industry, which is a real problem.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m super excited to be working with a startup called AGENT, which is an online platform where models can book work directly with vetted clients in a safe digital environment, which offers same day payments and added measures of transparency which are too often missing from the industry. I’m finally getting to put all of those years of modeling to good use by working to build a better standard for the industry. I think technology has helped level the playing field a bit within the modeling world in terms of physical standards, but it still has a long way to go. Additionally, there are still so many areas which desperately need someone to step up to the plate with real standards and solutions for payments and transparency within bookings, which we are doing.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in the modeling industry? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Diversity is important in all areas of life, and the entertainment industry is no different. Without varying opinions, cultures, and viewpoints, we would never advance and grow as a society. I feel that oftentimes even the most intelligent people forget this at times. With regards to the modeling industry, the media has such an influence over our youth in particular, that we have a moral responsibility to set a positive example for them, and that is one of the things I love the most about working with AGENT. Our industry is so influential in terms of setting the standard for body image and we need to own up to that and set the right examples. There are no set height, size, race or age requirements to be listed as a model on AGENT, while most typical modeling agencies still impose unattainable standards on their models. I believe that technology is helping bring diversity to the industry, but we still have a long way to go.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Be diligent about payments. I was always so eager to accept jobs when I was first starting out, that I didn’t think much about payment agreements or structure. Young models are often inexperienced in business and therefore extremely taken advantage of in this area across the industry. This is one of the main reasons AGENT provides same day payments for all jobs that take place on the platform. It’s such a huge problem (even for models with reputable agencies) for models to be paid, let alone be paid on time, and we want to provide a lasting solution for that with our technology.
- It’s ok to say no to clients or agencies. The entertainment industry is full of dreamers, who sometimes feel the need to please others or to say “yes” to every opportunity in order to pursue that dream, often at the expense of themselves. If, as a model, you don’t feel comfortable for any reason, it’s always better to speak up. This can seem really scary, but please know that there are people behind you who will support you. I know from experience that even if I was the first to stand up to a client or agent, there would always be others that would come forward once I broke the ice.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up for others. For me personally, it would almost offend me more to see the treatment of some of my friends, either by their manager or a client on set, than experiencing it for myself. As I mentioned, I was born with a very thick skin, but to watch some of them in tears, extremely affected by the actions or words of others, was where I would draw the line and speak up for them. It felt so good to stick up for friends, and when done in a professional manner, always yielded positive results. I encourage others to do the same, as I feel many times in our society as a whole (not just within the modeling industry), it just feels easier for people to say or do nothing than to stand up to those in charge. We need to stop being afraid to do that, in order to initiate real positive change.
- Always follow up with clients, treat your modeling career as your own business. Having a degree in business really gave me a head start in this area, and I’d like to pass that knowledge along to models who are just getting their start. At AGENT, we are building out educational programs and tools to assist freelancers in the business world so they won’t be such easy targets for those with more experience, and so they’ll better know how to develop and grow business relationships without the need to depend on others.
- Don’t give up. There will always be people telling you “no” or that “you can’t” do certain things. But the truth is, there is no limit to what any individual can achieve. Everytime I heard those words, it challenged me to try harder. To explore other avenues. To make changes and try again. And everytime I eventually succeeded.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Because this industry is so competitive, we are constantly having to push ourselves. It’s definitely a myth that most models are earning loads and loads of money and get everything for free. Without steady paychecks, most people are working a second or third job just to cover the cost of living. This hectic schedule makes it even more important for us to remember to take time for ourselves. To understand that it’s ok to take a break once in awhile, to center yourself so you are able to keep moving forward.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to start a major Mentorship movement in our culture. It seems to have become lost over the years, but I believe it is the responsibility of the elders, the wise, and the very wealthy, to set an example and help those young people starting out in need of guidance and support. And the younger generations should be receptive to this. As an educator, I believe the only real way to initiate positive change in the world is through young people. We need to set examples for them, instead of taking advantage of them, especially those of us with access to media and other public platforms. We need to take the time to take those in need of guidance under our wing, even though there’s nothing directly “in it” for ourselves. It’s for the good of the whole, and it’ll feel great for everyone involved, I promise!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Throughout my career, it hasn’t been one single person that was there for me, but an entire supportive community of friends and clients that I have met along the way. The people I’ve met and the lasting relationships I’ve made are definitely what I am most thankful for. Modeling led me all over the world and along the way I was able to meet such amazing lifelong friends, all with incredible stories and backgrounds.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dad would always tell me “life isn’t fair” growing up, and while I hated to hear it, he was right! I never go into any situation with any type of expectation, which has really enabled me, and given me this sort of freedom that many people never seem to find. It has helped me look for answers within myself, to manage my own actions and reactions, rather than expecting a certain outcome from anything outside my own control.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have breakfast with Elon Musk. As one of the most innovative leaders in the technology space, I’d love to hear about some of the challenges he’s faced and how he overcame them. I would also be interested in his feedback on technology in our industry, and what we can do together to improve standards going forward, how to get the masses on board, and what he thinks about starting a mentorship movement. He also seems to be unafraid of what the public thinks, which I admire.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
If you are a model interested in applying for AGENT, or a client interested in booking professional models, go to www.JoinAgent.com.
Follow Laila on IG! @joinagent @egyptianmoonbeam