Anna Shillinglaw is a former model who had a hugely successful modelling career that spanned 17 years, she also was one of the original curve models. Anna worked for renowned fashion and commercial clients and was ‘Bikini Girl’ in the British comedy classic ‘Kevin and Perry Go Large.’ After her career slowly started to end, she decided that she needed the industry to become more diverse and inclusive so she set about to make a change in the industry and opened Model agency MiLK Management. Her agency has a diverse roster of talent and she heads up the world renowned curve board that has broken barriers globally in the fashion industry.
Tell us about your journey into modelling
I set up Milk Model Management in 2011 but I was a model from the age of 17. I very naughtily didn’t finish my A-Levels and thought I’d give this modelling malarkey a go. I was signed by Storm Management and my mum helped me move to London the following week and from there I modelled for the next 17 years. I understood quite quickly how it all worked and how important it was to reinvent yourself as a model, keep your name in the game and stay positive. Learning about different markets was also important for my career and I ended up living in New York for 7 years.
How did your modelling develop over those years?
When I first started I was what you call a ‘straight size’ model, I was very very slim, and that was great at the time but in my mid-20s, when I started gaining weight, it became very stressful. I was always going to shoots thinking am I going to fit in these clothes and then you would get in a lot of trouble with your agent if you didn’t fit in the clothes so it was really a lot of pressure. I was then introduced to plus size modelling and for me, it was like wow, I can still be a model and not starve myself! From there I ended up doing plus size modelling for about 10 years!
How did the idea for MiLK Management come about?
My lightbulb moment came when I moved back home and realised that the UK didn’t have a plus-size agency. At the time I was 34 and pregnant with my son Oscar. My husband was in the military so I started MiLK in my spare bedroom in our army quarter in West Byfleet.
When I was a model I was a bit annoyed because I used to think, I’ve got a pretty face, why do they care so much if I have a little bit of a tummy or a bit of a bum? I thought I would love to be in an agency, that I wasn’t scared to go into or have the measuring tape brought out and that’s what I wanted to create.
When I started though I had no idea what I was doing but I had a little bit of money and one of my mum’s friends was really good at websites. The website was made and then I was on a job with some friends and I told them my idea and they were like, yeah, we’ll join you and so I started with about 5 girls.
What was important for you?
I wanted to do something very fashion forward and inclusive. It wasn’t going to be just about curves, as to me, people are beautiful whatever size they are, whatever skin colour they are. I wanted to have a great agency and make money, but for me, it was more about showing brands and photographers and the public that diversity is really cool, it’s beautiful, it’s not just about size. So our focus was really on making beautiful imagery and shooting great diverse people. In England, there were a couple of curvaceous agencies, but they were just curves. We were the first agency to have a roster of all kinds of talents, in all shapes and sizes!
How far has the fashion industry come in terms of showing empowerment and more diverse representations?
I mean it’s huge right now, many big brands are jumping on board, with their advertising. Not only size and waist but also with age and disability and it’s brilliant. There is still a long way to go, but you’ll definitely see more. River Island has just done a great advertisement campaign where they used older people, younger people, people of different sizes and people with disabilities.
River Island’s Labels are for clothes campaign
Also, I don’t know if you saw the latest Grazia cover which had all these beautiful girls with disabilities on the cover and they also did an age cover.
Grazia Front Cover Sept 2018