The new spring term welcomed our inaugural honorary fellow, Laura Winson to speak at Vogue Education Presents, held at the Charlotte Street Hotel, to talk about her impressive work as the co-director of Zebedee inclusive talent agency.
Students, staff, and industry professionals assembled to listen to Laura Winson’s inaugural honorary fellowship talk. The timing of the talk could not have been more opportune, as Zebedee model, Ellie Goldstein, is British Vogue’s May 2023 cover star.
Winson is the founder and co-director of Zebedee, the first inclusive global talent agency. She founded the agency in 2017, following a ten year career in social work. Zebedee aims to redefine the way the media perceives beauty, disability, and diversity, representing disabled, visibly different, and trans and non-binary actors and models.
“We were talking about opportunities (or lack of) for disabled people in the media… and it was just a lightbulb moment of – if no one is representing people with disabilities or differences, then why don’t we do it?”
– Laura Winson
Importance of Representation in the Industry
Winson and her co-director, Zoe Proctor, will not stop until underrepresented talent is an equal part of media and advertising. Research shows that disabled people make up only one percent of those featured in advertising, while they represent 20 percent of the UK population. Additionally, the trans and non-binary populations are estimated at 750,000 in the UK. Despite these large populations, businesses are behind in casting a representative narrative.
“As a disabled woman in her 40s I’ve worked through my own personal battles to reach a stage where I’m truly comfortable in my own skin but what I wouldn’t have done to have had something like Zebedee around when I was younger.
I have only just stopped flinching when I see others with the same difference as me, I grew up hardly ever seeing anyone who looked like me – so few that whenever I did it was a shock. Representation is so very important in promoting acceptance, I absolutely can’t over stress that point and I feel very proud to play a small part in that.”
– Quote from Zebedee model
As a solution, Zebedee has set up shop across the UK, USA, Australia, Europe, and Japan to partner with brands who are ready to help make a difference. Zebedee models represent a wide range of disabilities, visible differences, and gender identities.
“Disability is often left out of the diversity debate; we often receive briefs looking for ‘diversity’, but with no mention of disability, alternative appearances, or trans/non binary.”
– Laura Winson
Amongst the audience sat influential industry professionals, for which Winson highlighted the immense business opportunities that inclusive casting provides. Research shows that the disabled consumer holds a spending power of £274 billion. Businesses who cast diversely can grow sales 2.9 times faster, with profits growing 4.1 times faster than companies without representation (Accenture, 2020). Additionally, in a 2023 study by Meta, inclusive advertising is proven to increase ad performance.
Audiences and internal organisations are fatigued with one narrative of perfection being shown in the media. If companies want to appeal to a wider range of audiences with proven returns, they must ensure that their entire approach is inclusive. Good practice also includes employing a diverse workforce, consulting with experts, ensuring accessibility in the workplace, and diversity team training.
“Inaction is no longer an option. If disability is not on your agenda, then neither is diversity, and business leaders risk their organisations being left behind.”
– Caroline Casey, Valuable 500
Zebedee’s pioneering mission has been met with incredible success. Zebedee models work with the world’s biggest brands such as Vogue, Gucci, Burberry, Disney, HBO, Apple, BBC, and many more. Zebedee aims to encourage inclusive casting through representation of underrepresented populations around the globe. Zebdedee’s journey is inspiring and fast-paced, with no indication of slowing down anytime soon.
By Chloé Janssen, MA Luxury Brand Strategy & Business student
Photo of Laura Winson by BA Fashion Communication & Industry Practice student, Alyssa Mullings