Nigerian entrepreneur and former beauty queen Elizabeth Isiorho is ramping up her modeling business to provide more young people international opportunities and put African beauty on the map.
Despite the fact that COVID-19 may have shaken the very foundation of global fashion, one thing that has stayed is the focus on Africa as the world’s resource hub for the creative industry, with its surging youth dividend and gifted talent pool.
Nigeria’s former beauty queen, Elizabeth Isiorho has capitalized on this opportunity, as she takes her modeling business to the next stage. While launching ‘Future Face Africa’, she hopes for the foundation to be a pan-African talent search to discover more African faces to showcase to the rest of the world.
Her modeling agency, Beth Model Management Africa, has been at the forefront of this quest, since 2004, to provide a platform for African models abroad.
“Models will be given a chance to win a two-year international modeling contract with a top modeling agency, offering hopefuls not just a launchpad but a career on the world stage,” she says in an interview with FORBES AFRICA over Zoom from London in May.
Isiorho herself had her breakthrough in the industry with the international agency, Elite Model Management. Growing up, Isiorho was influenced by her mother, a veteran in the Nigerian entertainment industry and die-hard fashion lover who always told her daughter she resembled supermodel Naomi Campbell.
Isiorho who became friends with Campbell several years later, followed in her role model’s footsteps? While African fashion and beauty is now celebrated abroad, this was not the case when Isiorho first started. Modeling had several negative perceptions in Africa that she needed to break.
Born in London and relocating to the United Kingdom (UK) Isiorho studied Business and Information Technology at the London Guildhall University. With a passion for the modelling industry instilled in her from an early age, she began her career doing a few shows in London until a serendipitous encounter with a friend put her firmly on her destined path.
“A friend of mine showed me some magazines that had Miss Nigeria UK and she said I should go for it. I was extremely shy but I went for the 10-day boot camp and on the ninth day, I said ‘this is not for me, I’m not walking that stage in a bikini’ and I said to my mum ‘I am not doing it anymore’.
My mum said she had bought her ticket to London to come and surprise me on stage so I should stick it out. I did and I won the competition, to my surprise,” recalls Isiorho.
After winning the pageant, Isiorho returned to Nigeria in 2003 to continue to build her career in the modeling industry. And that is where she noticed a glaring gap in the market.
She decided to set up her own agency instead and Beth Model Management Africa was born. Over the years, Isiorho has grown the brand from only 10 models to over 200 with 48 of them placed worldwide across various agencies, making Beth one of the largest modelling agencies in Africa.
Not one to give up, she used grit and tenacity to pioneer the model management model in Africa.
Due to the lack of demand for African models at the time, Isiorho decided to start a model convention. Her thinking was simple. If the international fashion industry would not accept African models, she would bring them to Africa to see the untapped potential for themselves.
“So, I sent them emails and out of 11 agencies, nine of them replied to say they were coming and one of the agencies, which was Elite Models, said ‘we have a model search and would like you to be a part of it’.”
Founded in 1983, Elite Model Look is a prestigious international modeling contest credited with discovering supermodels such as Cindy Crawford, Gisele Bundchen, Lara Stone and Alessandra Ambrosia. This was the big break Isiorho needed for her agency. In 2007, she exclusively secured the rights to organize the Elite Model Look Nigeria/Africa contest.
Over the years, Isiorho has placed indigenous African beauty in global campaigns such as Victoria’s Secret and New York Fashion Week to name a few.