“We met up one Sunday and, after a few drinks, decided to open a shop.” And, after a few weeks searching for a city centre location, Dean McDaid and Emma Fraser did just that. “We didn’t have any money,” laughs McDaid, “but we were determined.” And so, with more grit than green, the young entrepreneurs opened the doors of 9 Crows in December 2010. A store was born, which proudly boasted handpicked, vintage clothing and, unashamedly, lacked a fitting room or a till. Dublin’s fashion scene was about to experience a new kind of freshness, unrestricted by fixtures or fittings. McDaid and Fraser took a three month lease and got to work. A boutique grew to an online brand, which eventually lead them to their latest venture, Not Another, a creative and modelling agency. The duo, both under 30, have gone from strength to strength since their car-boot sale beginnings and have established themselves as household names on the creative scene. Sitting down with McDaid, during a rare, spare five minutes of his day, we find out just how a few pints progressed into remodelling the Irish fashion industry.
“We just felt that there was a gap,” McDaid begins, on his and Emma’s original motivations for setting up Not Another. “We were about to launch our online store and were looking to book professional models to feature on site. But, after going to all of the usual agencies, we couldn’t quite find what we were looking for”. Age was one of the factors here. Teens, tweens and early twenty-somethings were the initial target market for 9 Crows. And though the brand has since steadily evolved, the model pool in Dublin in 2013, was slightly too senior for their style. It didn’t make any waves either. Dean recalls an allied aesthetic across the faces of Ireland’s models. “It was like something was missing. There was a lack of personality.” A word which buzzes regularly around 9 Crows, the brand is seen somewhat as a law on to itself. The brand, for those unfamiliar with the space in Temple Bar and its ever growing social stream, is one of eclectic, vintage and contemporary clothing. Mesh and athleisure are regularly in stock, while prints reminiscent of the late George Michael (Wham era) also play a pretty big part. The style is current, if a little bit edgy, and far from fitting the Irish photo-call set who once had their day.
With diversity in mind and a website to shoot, Not Another began to develop, and in 2015 launched. Displayed across a minimalist setting are the faces and bodies, of the good, gorgeous and, at times, totally celestial. One particularly notable feature of the website, is the number of boys on the books. Be it a shortage of people, or a shortage of interest, the ratio of guys to girls in almost every agency in Ireland is drastically in the favour of the females. Not Another differs from this industry standard by representing a wide spectrum of gender. A concept currently being challenged in all aspects of life, McDaid stresses the importance of diversity to Not Another. “Gender fluidity is finally being represented more clearly across the world. Yes we are in Ireland, so it will take a lot longer to happen and be widely accepted here, but that’s no reason to ignore it. To not represent it [varying genders] would be a problem.” On this basis McDaid believes that Not Another has a model for everyone, not just in terms of identification but also commercially. “For both fashion and commercial bookings we have a really diverse range of looks, ages and ethnicities, and with the industry moving away from the old rules, clients are looking to work with agencies like us.” A fact apparent in publications, advertisements and beyond, Not Another’s clan canvas bus shelters, front covers and, internationally, fashion weeks’ runways.
With their 9 Crows beginnings, McDaid and Fraser feel as though they came into Not Another at an advantage. “We’ve worked on both sides, as the client and the agent, so we really know what people want. For that reason we try to keep it friendly with people giving us their business, we use less of an office tone with clients. We appreciate them giving us the work. There are a lot of agencies out there now so the work is getting tighter for everyone, but we feel like our fresh approach and positivity sets us apart”. However this quasi ‘non-conformist’ concept is not without its issues.
Their name, for one, did not go unnoticed. Not Another was interpreteted, initially, to have a negative connotation by some in the fashion industry. “The name is tongue and cheek”, says McDaid, with a slight roll of the eyes. Though obvious to some, this name, along with the signing of a more diverse range of models, presented Not Another with an uphill battle upon entering the industry in Ireland. “When we emerged it was very easy to make the misconception that we were trying to be different for the sake of it. The notion of us being purely an ‘alternative’ agency was one we were contending with at the start. Presumptions were made, particularly by those who had been in the business a long time”. Not Another would eventually overcome this. When pressed for a reason as to why they received these reactions, McDaid simply waved it off as it being par for the course. “That’s just how the industry was at the time and how people felt. People hype this idea up that you have to be cold and bitchy, it’s ridiculous. Our motto is be sound. To our models, to our clients and to people we meet. It’s just about having that respect and not acting negatively towards anyone.”
Though it is a perception frequently associated with the fashion industry as a whole, McDaid feels that things are changing since Not Another entered the game. When asked if he thinks if Not Another have influenced fashion in Ireland, he gives us a definitive yes. “Very clearly. And I want to say it in a very positive way. We have a really nice website, we get our models to test a lot more and a lot of other agencies have taken note. I think it’s because of ourselves, but also a number of other creatives in Dublin. It’s hard when you’re new in the industry because it’s very closed, but there’s been a change, I feel that we’ve brought a different part of the industry alive.”
Though for McDaid and Fraser, their newbie status has long expired, as agents they are accustomed to working with those who are only getting started and believe in the importance of having a strong rapport with their models. “Our presence here is so important. What we have here is the skillset to train the models rather than asking creatives, like stylists and photographers to teach. We want them to be confident in their first shoot”. Building this confidence comes in the form of in-house test shoots. “We do our own test shoots so we can build their confidence and make them feel comfortable. If you are acting intimidating or way too above it, they [models] are not going to give you their full potential. They won’t let it come out.”
In this encouraging environment, Not Another readily prepares their models for gigs in Ireland, and, with their eyes on the international prize, agencies globally. However, for things slightly further afield, McDaid explains that it takes a little bit more before they can fly the nest. “We don’t push people to work internationally, we only encourage it if they want to do it.” McDaid speaks of the difference in industry standards outside of Ireland and how size really does matter once you leave the Emerald Isle. “It’s important to make their skin thicker,” says McDaid. “There are issues like size…and well, just size really. It’s important to ensure that they are ready to hear certain things about their own bodies. That can be difficult with young people. It’s not nice, but it happens. Models need to be mentally strong and let it fall off their back. In modelling you are a product and if you don’t work for one thing you’ll work for something else.”
McDaid’s confidence in finding that something else is not unfounded, with connections in some of the biggest agencies worldwide, Not Another’s models are spread across the books of global giants like, Selected, Elite and Wilhelmina. Impressive as that might sound coming from a small agency in Ireland, McDaid says that the networking they did on a global level was in some ways easier than in their native Dublin. “We all had connections abroad, so we reached out to them. People were positive in their responses, and fast. It was actually easier for us originally to be working on an international level, but once we got noticed there it came back around to Ireland,” a proud confidence in his voice. “All of the international agencies love us and really want to work with us even if they haven’t yet. And we just really want to show the rest of the world what Ireland has to offer.”
One such offering is new face Aubrey O’Mahony. A Kildare native who signed to Not Another in 2016, Aubrey made his international runway debut last month, walking for the likes of Moncler and Ben Sherman in Milan and London Fashion Weeks. This along with contracts with both IMG and Trend, makes the singe-chopped young lad one to watch in 2017 and Not Another, an agency to commend.
In terms of the future, McDaid is completely clear in his and Fraser’s intentions. “We want to be the mother agent in Ireland. We already are with regards to the number of international models on our books but we want to keep moving forward. We want to make our mark on the Irish industry.”
Words: Sinead O’Reilly
Charlie shot by Dean Ryan McDaid
Dylan shot by Dean Ryan McDaid
Aubrey shot by Dean Ryan McDaid