Meet the Owner of Richard’s International Model Management
Rya Berkelaar, owner of Richard’s International Model Management, opens up about agency life, what keeps her inspired, and the future of modeling.
Rya Berkelaar knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed in the modelling industry. As a former model turned agency owner, she’s helped develop the careers of some of Canada’s most successful models.
The Vancouver-native is passionate about helping young talent find their place in the industry. And not just from a career perspective. Rya’s own journey as a model taught her the importance of making health and wholeness a priority, equipping her with the knowledge and desire to help others do the same.
In our interview, Rya shared her journey from model to agency owner, offering insight on what it’s like operating a successful modelling agency in downtown Vancouver.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Rya seemingly fell into modelling when she least expected it. “Back in the early 90's I was dating the brother of a prominent photographer in town, Raphael Mazzucco, and we decided to do a creative shoot one day.” The photos turned out well and ended up kick starting her journey as a model.
Not long after her debut in front of the camera, Rya met Richard Hawley, the owner and founder Richard’s International Model Management. She was seventeen at the time.
“I’ll never forget the day I met Richard. The agency office was in a fabulous penthouse on Georgia street. When I arrived, the elevator doors opened to a gorgeous view of the North Shore mountains and Stanley Park, and there was Richard. We chatted about everything but modeling for hours, sitting in the rooftop garden. By the end of the conversation, he had invited me to sign as a model with his agency!”
Rya signed with Richard’s and modelled for a few years, travelling to New York and Paris to cut her teeth in the industry. Beginning her career in the 90’s offered a lot of opportunity and creative challenge. But it also meant navigating an era with intense pressure for models to conform to an ultra-thin figure.
“Losing weight in the 90’s was not a healthy subject. I remember thinking, there has to be a better way. Thankfully, the industry is shifting now. People are much more conscious of their health, and industry expectations are slowly changing. Overall the industry has embraced the fact that a healthy lifestyle is important – at least more than when I started modelling.”
Rya’s focus on health and wellness was heightened when she started her family. Having children forced her to learn more about sustainable health, and how to take care of herself and two boys. This shaped the trajectory of her career, and provided her with the knowledge she shares on a daily basis as she coaches other models in their own careers.
Transition to agency life
Fast forward a few years and an opportunity arose to work in another facet of the industry: helping Richard run his modelling agency. Now settled back into Vancouver, Rya started out by answering the phones and learning the ropes of what it took to run an agency. As it turns out, Rya took to it like a fish takes to water
“I always knew that I would be a part of the modelling industry. What I didn’t know is that I would be much happier on this side of it. I love all the details, challenges, and how I can contribute to a model’s development in a positive way.”
Taking on one task at a time, Rya soon learned the nuts and bolts behind running a successful modelling agency. “It took a lot of observation and patience,” she says. “There was no other way to learn except spending time to absorb every detail of how the business worked. It definitely wasn’t easy, but I enjoyed the challenge.”
As Richard transitioned to retirement after spending decades in the industry, Rya stepped up to carry it forward. She now owns and operates Richard’s with a small team, preserving its mission to offer personalized management for each model.
As for what a typical day looks like? Rya says no two days are the same. The team is always busy meeting new models, photographers and artists. Now at the helm, Rya is looking towards handling more international placements and expanding the business.
With her background as a model, running the agency is more than just owning a business. Rya knows first hand the challenges and pressures that young talents face in the ever competitive modelling industry.
“Every day I am inspired to help models see the greatest success possible, while feeling like they are living an authentic life. It’s important to me that they have a positive experience and feel confident about their decisions. I’m proud that we help our models become real professionals who show up prepared and make a good impression.”
Having navigated her own career at a time when health was secondary to achieving success as a model, Rya takes extra care to coach her models towards healthy living.
“It’s important that models have the knowledge and tools to stay healthy and fit in a sustainable way. To succeed, one must think of it as training like an Olympic athlete. You may have the natural attributes but if you really want compete and go for gold it takes discipline and effort. If you are eating healthy and taking care of yourself, it should feel good and sustainable as a lifestyle, not oppressive.”
While Rya stresses the importance of developing a sustainable lifestyle, she acknowledges that the pressure surrounding physicality that comes with the job is not for everyone.
“It can be hard to remember sometimes the difference between being judged on your personal worth, and your suitability in the business for a particular client, at a particular time. Not everyone can handle that kind of pressure. But it’s just the competitive nature of the business.”
Advice for aspiring models
When asked what advice she would give an aspiring model starting out, Rya offered a few pieces of insight.
Commit to it
Make sure you really want to do it. In order to have a chance to succeed, you need to be prepared to fully commit to developing yourself as a model, both mentally and physically.
Find a reputable agency
To determine whether an agency is the real deal, look at the quality of models they have. Check their social media and look for the kind of jobs their models are getting. Is money coming from fees, or from booking jobs? Does it look like the agency is asking for money up front? If they are, they’re not reputable. Ask around. Make appointments with all the agencies in your area, and trust your gut on who you feel most comfortable with. It could turn into a life long relationship.
Success doesn’t happen overnight. You need to give yourself time to develop. Remember, timing is everything.
Embrace your uniqueness
You can have the perfect height and build, but if you have no personality, are impatient, or just plain rude, you won’t get far. Having a positive attitude while persevering will get you much farther than looks on their own.
Rya also answered a couple of common questions on what they look for when deciding who to sign as a model
What’s the best age to start modelling?
It’s different for guys and girls. Richard’s has considered girls starting from 14-15 years old, depending on their height. Boys tend to be a little older. But most of the time, it’s not about an age. It’s about the readiness of a model overall.
It’s important to understand that things start very slowly in Vancouver. Many international markets don’t even look at bringing models over until they’re 18.
What are the top things you look for in a model?
First, you obviously have to meet certain height and body proportion requirements. Minimum height starts at around 5’8 for women or 6 feet for men. Being healthy and in shape will contribute to your ability to be versatile and successful as a model.
Personality plays a bigger role than people realize. Everyone has something that makes them special, and it’s up to you to embrace your unique characteristics. If you are going to a go-see or casting, show up with energy, but be yourself.
Ultimately, all these things combine in a way to create the ‘X’ factor, as Eileen Ford called it. Although a bit enigmatic, we’re looking for someone who stands out and is unique both in terms of looks and personality.
Social media and the future of modeling
As technology continues to evolve, social media has caused a fundamental shift in the modelling industry. Agencies, clients and models alike are continually being confronted with new realities and opportunities. “People aren’t reading magazines and looking at billboards like they used to,” says Rya. “People are looking at social media.”
This has brought both good and bad consequences for modelling agencies. Both of which Rya has experienced first-hand.
The rise of social influencer personalities have also sharply altered the definition of what it means to be a ‘model’. While social media has opened up new career opportunities for many models, it’s also made the space more competitive. Emerging talents are faced with opportunities to make their mark in the world but experience confusion at the myriad of paths available.
“With our models I sometimes have to ask, do you want to be an Instagram model, or do you want to be a fashion model? There is a crossover as you go to the top, but making a career as a professionally trained model is more than being a social influencer with an iPhone, believe it or not” says Rya.
As trends in social media and technology continue to shift, so will the future of modelling agencies around the world.
Richard’s launched their inaugural Artist Division on April 1. The agency is now representing hair and makeup artists as well as models.
If you are a stylist, hair or makeup artist based in Vancouver and would like to learn more about working with Richard’s, contact the team at Richard’s.