Modeling overseas can be very rewarding for many reasons, the best of which is you can make some serious money. It will open new doors and horizons for all models who once accept a chance to see the world.
A brief overview of cities overseas with active markets for models.
Traditionally, the big markets for models were the cities that hosted the major fashion weeks; New York, London, Paris and Milan. However, over the past couple decades many regional markets have grown, and some of these rival the originals in work, pay and even stature with the traditional markets.
Most notable are the Asian markets. Beijing and Tokyo are huge markets that attract many top designers and are bustling with work. Hong Kong has lost a little of its luster to mainland China but still has a lot of work as do Singapore, Bangkok, Taipei, and to a lesser degree Seoul.
In Europe, Berlin has come on very strong, Sao Paulo continues to be a growing fashion hub for South America and you can’t ignore Dubai which is fast becoming another world class capital for fashion and another strong market for models from outside the area.
In this article I’m going to focus on the Asian markets as those are the ones with the most opportunity.
Some of the benefits of modeling overseas
First there’s a ton of work overseas. New York does too, but it’s so competitive, and making money can be very challenging; especially for newer models.
Most models amass a ton of tear sheets when working overseas. Print and magazines are still very popular in most other countries; you’ll walk away with a book that helps you get work almost anywhere.
Most models can make a lot of money overseas.
Lastly, it can be a lot of fun. You experience new places, make new friends, and the most cities are vibrant, beautiful and exciting places to live in.
In Europe, most of the female models follow the same editorial guidelines as here in the States; they prefer models that are 5'10”, with exceptions down to 5'8 for special cases. However, in Asia, a beautiful girl who is 5'6 can be quite successful depending on the market.
Also, unlike Europe, Asia can be more forgiving regarding your book. You can be a fairly new model and get a contract to model in Asia if the agents there like your look.
Note: Some cities, most notably those in China are gravitating towards taller models.
Asian countries and their work
China: As the leading country for manufacturing clothing for North America and Europe, there’s a lot of work in China. The combination of having the range ready sooner there and lower production costs causes many U.S. and European brands manufacturing there to produce their catalogues right in China. The lines being marketed for the Chinese market commonly get introduced with runway shows and television commercials. This means a lot of work for models, especially catalogue and point of purchase materials.
Thailand: If working in Thailand you’ll probably be doing a lot of television commercials and they pay very well. They love Eurasian looks.
Taiwan: Similar to the Thailand market they gravitate towards younger models and again, Eurasian looks are popular for television commercials and catalogues.
Singapore: Singapore is not a big money market but a great market to get tear sheets and magazine work. You go there to build your book for the other markets. It’s a great place to start for many other reasons: It’s easy to get around, most people speak English, and it’s extremely safe and clean making it a great introduction to Asia.
Japan: Japan is a very mature and competitive market. Only the best models with strong books get work there. They prefer younger models and if you qualify there’s a lot of catalogue and other work. Japan, most notably Tokyo is also the most expensive place to live in Asia and not a place to venture without an agency solidly behind you.
More on looks
The different markets in Asia are, well, different. However, there are some basic guidelines for looks across the board.
The leading look is Eurasian; however some Caucasian looks go over very well. A tall blonde American or European model becomes exotic there. There are some looks that don’t go over so well, for example Hispanic models don’t get placed there very often.
Just as height can be more forgiving in some Asian countries, so are other specs. Depending on the market you can curvier both in hip measurement and cup size.
What’s the work’s like in Asia?
The amount of work differs based on the time of year. During the busy season you can easily go on 5-8 castings per day! The work that pays the best is catalogues and television commercials. A good thing since that’s the majority of the work in most Asian countries! You may also do occasional runway work and occasional showroom jobs. Expect to stay busy. If not, you’ll probably get sent home.
The working conditions are almost always good. Your agency handles almost everything for you. They arrange for a place to live, pick you up and drive you to your jobs, and feed you when working. They really want to make you happy while working there.
The negatives of working in Asia
I’m not sure you can really call any of these “negatives”, but instead “differences”. They only become negative for those that are unwilling to adapt.
Across Asia, the culture demands respect and commonly men still dominate the business world. As a female model you want you to act cute, fun and feminine. You don’t want to challenge anyone, pout or act dismayed. It doesn't go over well there at all. For the most part respect is given back, but you may not notice that in traditional ways. Communications are different; don’t expect someone in a position of authority to be willing to massage your ego.
Some models get homesick, more so at first. However, there are always plenty of other foreign models living with you and it's easy to make friends if you want to.
The work ethic is also different. The days can be long, especially when doing catalogue shoots. It can take a little getting used to but the good news is you’re working!
The key to enjoying yourself and dealing with things you aren't accustomed is to communicate with your agent and also your mother agent back home.
Tips on modeling in Asia
The relationship of your mother agency with the foreign agency is extremely important: There aren't many placement agencies that are connected with the right agencies overseas, having a good mother agent is important. You want to ensure you are being placed with the top agencies in Asia, it makes all the difference.
Before leaving overseas, get a Skype account and learn how to use it effectively. It’s a great tool to keep in touch with family and can dramatically reduce communication costs.
Move around from market to market. Some models decide to stay in Asia years at a time, they work in different countries, not just to break things up, but the busy seasons can vary.
Editor’s note: I've worked a lot overseas myself, including Asia. The land, culture and people are all amazing. If you go, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. For models it can be a great way to make money, or to just kick-start your career. If you decide to do it, write us and let us know about your experience.
If you've already worked overseas, send us an email and tell us your experience!
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