Breaking down barriers: how a talented model from Manchester is hoping to inspire others

  • Shem J spoke to Lucy Meacock in the Granada Reports studio

The star of a new TV show about an inclusive model agency says disabilities are not a "barrier" but an "advantage".

Channel 4's show, 'New Model Agency', focuses on a young and diverse cast of models Zebedee Talent in the run up to London Fashion Week.

One of its stars is Manchester's Shem J. The Nigerian-born model has albinism and has shot campaigns with huge brands like Burberry, H&M, Primark and Boohoo.

"Personally I don't see disability as anything negative or as a barrier, I see it as something you can use, to work, to your advantage," Shem said.

"When you've got that guy that looks like me, that looks a bit different, you don't see that. You're definitely going to keep your eys on that person, it's definitely a good thing to have."

Shem has modelled for several different brands, and audiences see Fred Perry join the list in the show. Credit: Salamanda/Channel 4

Zebedee Talent describe themselves as "the leading inclusive agency for Disabled, Visibly Different, Non-Binary and Trans models".

Its aim is to change the way disability, visible difference and gender identity are represented in fashion and the wider media.

Shem continued: "Growing up, what you see in the media is definitely going to influence you and you're definitely going to pick role models from that, but it's hard to do that when you're not seeing people that look like you.

"I think now though it's definitely changing.

"Because of my environment, I'm so blessed that I didn't really suffer anything like bullying or didn't really doubt myself, I always had friends and family around me who supported me and I think that played a part in how I saw myself, I always saw myself as different and unique, and someone who could always bring something to the table."

Shem J is part of the show that allows audiences to see how they're trying to diversify the fashion industry. Credit: Salamanda/Channel 4

Shem also offered some advice to younger people who may be struggling with their differences.

"Just try and be you, try and be the most authentic you because at the end of the day, nobody can do you better than you can," he said.

"You've got something different, something that's unique, I believe everyone has put on this Earth for a reason, the fact you're here and living life here is a blessing in itself."

The show has been received well by viewers. Three episodes show how the models make their mark on the industry, including landing deals with brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Fred Perry.

"I think what we have been able to achieve, the success of it. We came in with a strong message and a strong agenda, we wanted to push for diversity and inclusion," said Shem.

"The sky's the limit, I'm trying to see how far I can take this modelling career."

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