Shaw Bernard Is Redefining Beauty Standards With Her Diverse Modeling Agency!

After years of experience in the modeling business, Bernard founded STRUT– a full-service boutique agency located in New York City.

Shaw Bernard of STRUT Modeling Agency
Photo Courtesy of STRUT Modeling Agency

When Shaw Bernard began her 20-year modeling career, she could never imagine the impact she would have on the lives of others. Following in the footsteps of the iconic Bethann Hardison— a legendary supermodel who started a modeling agency— Bernard has become a trailblazer and advocate for diversity in the trillion-dollar fashion industry.

Hailing from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, Bernard moved to Brooklyn at 14. The Big Apple is where she was formally introduced to the modeling scene. “It took me seven years to finally get signed with an agency after trying all the things that people are told that they should do to be seen and signed,” she tells BrownStyle Magazine exclusively.

After years of experience in the modeling business, Bernard founded STRUT– a full-service boutique agency located in New York City. “Nearly 15 years ago I came up with the idea to begin a modeling school to educate young aspiring models on how to get into and survive the industry,” she shares about her agency that represents an array of unique and talented established and new faces.

“The driving force was looking around at the market and noticing that there were no modeling agencies that were owned by People Of Color, let alone Women Of Color,” she recalls. “I saw the void and decided to fill it.”

Bernard says that as a young girl, she faced the glaring reality that there was a lack of inclusion for Black women in model agencies. “Often agencies would only have one Black model,” she tells us before noting the rise of diversity in the industry.

“The diversity that exists now is a beautiful thing to see and experience. Never before have we seen so many ads portraying People Of Color. Runways around the world have been flooded with models of color walking for the biggest brands. We’ve also seen the rise of models of color in the supermodel category. It’s a stark difference from what was happening in the past,” she notes. “I remember the breakdowns would specifically exclude models of color, but now that is the number one request. Agencies are not just signing the one-token Black model anymore.”

According to a 2019 study done by Erin McDowell for the Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, “Racial diversity increased throughout 36 shows and 360 looks. The percentage of Black models increased by 11.6%, and the percentage of Latinx models increased by five percent. The percentage of Asian models fluctuated over the years but saw a five percent increase between 2013 and 2018.”

Shaw Bernard of STRUT Modeling Agency
Photo Courtesy of STRUT Modeling Agency

As the founder of a modeling agency, Bernard has firsthand witnessed the rise of inclusivity in the fashion industry. “The largest agencies are actively scouting models, especially in African countries. That’s created a snowball effect with other agencies recognizing the need to add models of color and varying sizes to their roster. Since it has proven successful, everyone is benefiting financially and getting a piece of the pie.”

Although diversity and inclusion make agencies lots of money, Bernard voices concerns that there are still few decision-makers who are female and Black. “There are barriers that continue to hinder diverse voices from receiving equal visibility and opportunities. It is still a very white and male-dominated space. True diversity, in my opinion, is not just hiring a model of color to be in the ads,” she proclaims.  

To help create the balance, Bernard founded STRUT, as a way to truly implement diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry.

“It is the foundation of who we are,” she says. “Let’s face it, the world revolves around fashion and society benefits from representation. Young boys and girls benefit from seeing people who look like them. It enhances their self-confidence.”

She continues, “Although it is the job of parents and guardians to instill these principles in their children, the reality is that a lot of where our youth obtain their sense of worth is external. We have a responsibility to depict positive imagery of what the world looks like. It gives hope to our future generations.” 

Bernard envisions that STRUT Models will pave the way for other Black-owned modeling agencies, as well as fashion professionals who dare to dream. “We still need to diversify agencies, casting directors, photographers, hair stylists, MUAs, creative directors, and the list goes on,” she expresses.

When it comes to aspiring models, Bernard wants them to treat their modeling career seriously by doing their research. According to the fashion vet, it starts with knowing your power.

“Agencies need you as much as you need them. Concern yourself with the culture of the agency. They should hold space for true diversity and align themselves with companies that embody these principles,” she concludes.

To learn more about STRUT, visit their website at

Heather Elitou is the Senior Managing Editor at BrownStyle Magazine, where her expertise has led to the publication's success. A devoted mother of three brilliant young women and a loving wife, she finds joy in nurturing her family. Beyond her professional and family life, Heather enjoys savoring the delights of a well-crafted cheese board. She is also known for her love of soulful conversations about living a soft life.