By Chloe Sweet @Chloe Sweet
Scroll down for the full story
Videographer / director: Fergus Thom
Photographer: Cecilia Colussi, Fergus Thom
Producer: Chloe Sweet, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
Shannie Hammouda, from London, UK, has combined her passion for fashion with her modest lifestyle to create UMMA Models.
Launched in 2017, the London-based agency works predominantly – though not exclusively – with Muslim women, who want to get into modelling without compromising their modesty.
The agency, which Shannie runs with her best friend and Head of Casting Nadia Harrak, looks to support the models on its books, with special provisions such as being given time to pray or not being left alone with a man.
Shannie began the agency after she converted to Islam.
She told Barcroft TV: “My modesty levels started changing, as I was changing my perception on life and the things that were important to me.
“And that made me have a look at the industry to see if that was represented anywhere and that’s basically how UMMA started.
“UMMA stands for United Modest Modelling Agency, but ‘ummah’ is also as an Arabic word for ‘community’.”
Prior to UMMA, Shannie ran another modelling agency that provided models for music videos.
She said: “It was completely different.
“My last video I did, I was like, I can’t be doing this anymore. It wasn’t modest at all.”
UMMA currently has around 60 models on its roster and largely attracts “religious models”, including Jewish and Christian models.
Shannie said: “They tend to choose us if they’ve got requirements - if they can’t be around men, if they need to pray or if they need to wear certain clothing but they still want to model and it’s still a hobby or an interest of theirs.”
As part of the ground-breaking initiative, the 31-year-old has made it her mission to protect what she calls the “over-sexualisation” of young teenage models.
“There are a lot of ways that teens are often sexualised in fashion and they are often not given age-appropriate work,” she said.
“This means that they perhaps will be given lingerie shoots, swimwear shoots and these shoots aren’t really for teenagers to wear, they are for grown women.
“With us being a modest modelling agency, there isn’t any sexualisation within the modelling that we do. You have got the protection there that you are never going anywhere unchaperoned for a female. And also we are always [checking] if the work is appropriate for your age range.”
Shannie also highlighted her aims to boot out the “tokenism” around featuring models in headscarves and push for a more diverse representation of modesty.
“I feel it’s really important to get rid of that tokenism. Because it’s not reflective of the current community,” she said.
“We have Muslim models that practice entirely different ways. Their modesty is totally different.
“They’re totally different they’re totally diverse. And that really needs to be represented within the media.”
Model Fatimah Abdullah, who has been in the industry for a year and a half, told how the agency differs from others because it doesn’t focus on “size, weight, height or colour.”
The 22-year-old said: “I think this agency is special because it doesn’t look at the size, your weight, your height, your colour, it is very diverse [with] different ethnic backgrounds and it looks into the modest world.
“I think it is really good to have something different and be part of the modest world and see what the fashion is all about.”
Fatimah added that the agency is more important than ever for her because she is a “Muslim girl living in a westernised community.”
“I need to dress modestly, cover myself, so it is very important for me to find clothing and find fashion accessories to fit to my sort of modesty,” she said.
Although female models are the focus of UMMA Models, it also offers a helping hand to men who prefer not to pose topless.
Shannie said: “It’s usually because the male models are not comfortable or looking to model without the tops off or showing skin, a lot of skin or maybe being in quite sexualised photo shoots and stuff.
“So we have an option for those men.”
In the future, Shannie is hopeful UMMA Models will flourish into a global success.
“I would love to see UMMA Models in the future being just as big as the biggest agency for models in the world,” she said.
“And the reason being is because I feel that then we’ll have done our job at representing the diversity within the community.”