When he enrolled at U of T in 2001, Ben Barry was already the veteran CEO of an international modelling agency – which made for an unusual residence experience at Trinity College. “I was getting courier packages of portfolios every day. The porter must have thought I had a really supportive family,” he jokes.
Barry, now 24, founded Ben Barry Agency Inc. in his Ottawa home when he was 14 after a childhood friend – who wore a size 8 – was turned down as a model for being “too big.”
From the beginning, Barry decided his agency would represent women of all ages, shapes and sizes. But prospective clients were not always thrilled with this approach. “People would say to me, ‘We’re sorry consumers feel badly about their bodies, but that’s not our problem. They’re still buying the product.’”
Barry persevered, and landed his first major campaign in 2003 when Dove hired him to scout models for their “Real Beauty” campaign. Now he employs a staff of 20 and counts Nike and Macy’s among his clients.
As a student at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School in England, Barry is currently working on a six-country survey of consumer reactions to models who don’t conform to the usual “under-21, size 0” demographic. “My hope,” says Barry, “is that my dissertation will provide me with concrete data I can take to the boardroom of Vogue and the offices of Paris designers.” In March, he published his first book, Fashioning Reality: A New Generation of Entrepreneurship (Key Porter Books).
Barry calls himself a “business activist,” and although he occasionally considers quitting the agency for academia, he says he won’t stop until models of all ages and sizes can find work on the runways of Milan and in the pages of fashion glossies. “It’s more attainable than we think,” he says.
A U of T lab is working with actors, writers and directors on how they could harness AI and other emerging technologies to generate new ideas and – just maybe – reinvent theatre