For Jamaica’s Top Models, Fashion Is A Celebration Of Their Roots

Hellshire Beach is about as far from the chaos of fashion as one can get. It is a picturesque stretch of white sand filled with sunbathers and vendors selling fried fish, just beyond the bustle of downtown Kingston. A favorite among locals, Hellshire’s scenery is certainly appealing, but its reputation as a place to unwind is what appeals to the models of Saint International, the agency at the forefront of Jamaica’s model wave. With a talent pool sourced from across the island, Saint represents the scope of beauty to be found here; the country’s “out of many, one people” motto is embodied by its roster of elegant teenagers, who are in high demand with luxury brands and glossy magazines. Rising to prominence without the aid of social media followings or celebrity connections, Saint’s models are known for the kind of arresting good looks that can’t be faked with good camera angles.

A glimpse at fashion’s current output offers an understanding of Jamaica’s international impact. Valentino and Chanel rely on the graceful St. Elizabeth beauty Tami Williams for campaigns and couture shows, while Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren put Kingston boy Brad Allen’s chiseled face on billboards. For Balenciaga, it’s the edgy Barbra Lee Grant; accounting student Naki Depass makes waves on the runway for JW Anderson and Burberry. Scouted by agency founder and president Deiwight Peters, many of Saint’s models have “spotted at the malt shop” discovery tales that hark back to Old Hollywood. “I couldn’t have planned for any of this—I was just out in my stall selling jelly and coconut water when I met this girl who told me about Deiwght,” says Tevin Steele, a coconut vendor who just snagged an exclusive with Saint Laurent. The girl in question, casting director Larissa Gunn, put him in touch with Peters and on the path toward fashion.

For Allen it was an after-school bus trip that turned into a spot in the Fashion Face of the Caribbean contest. A waifish schoolgirl who hit 5 feet 8 inches before her 11th birthday, Williams was spotted out with her family, while fellow Black River high schooler turned runway star Kai Newman got her big shot exiting the dentist’s office. No matter their story, they all credit Peters with bringing them into fashion. “With Deiwight anything is possible,” says Williams. “I remember telling him when I was 13 that one day I was going to walk Chanel, so to see that we’ve come so far, and now it’s all happened.” The feeling is echoed by Allen, who recalls the awe he felt at the prospect of seeing the world. “At one point I used to dream about getting on a plane or being able to see New York or London, so to be working there, seeing myself on billboards or on a storefront makes just me feel blessed,” he says.

The recurring theme among them is a sincere appreciation for the opportunities they’ve been given. Now used to traveling the globe for castings and campaigns, they return home each year for StyleWeek, the island’s answer to the Spring collections in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Serving as a local point of pride and a chance to show their families the fun of their day jobs, Saint’s models spend their pre-show downtime enjoying each other’s company in the comfort of a place many have known since childhood. “It’s always going to be home—I think my mother is more excited than anyone else there,” jokes Allen. “It’s just great to come back,” Newman adds. “All of Kingston comes out to watch during Fashion Block, and you can feel that energy.”

Though they update their Instagram with the usual summertime selfies and know how to have a great time, the most striking thing about Saint’s models may be their shared focus on giving back. Serving as unofficial ambassadors for Jamaican style means working with fashion legends and traversing the globe, but the true reward of all that glamorous work hits closer to home. “What I’m truly proud of is being able to say, ‘Mom, don’t worry, I got this, just let me know what you want, I’ll take care of it,’ says Williams, who is sending her younger siblings to private school. “I’m thankful to be able to do something like that at this young age—to help my family, and not just around the house.” United by the idea that success isn’t a solo accomplishment, their pride lies in doing something big for Jamaican culture as a whole. “I come from a place some would consider ghetto, so for my family and friends it’s uplifting seeing someone from there doing well internationally,” says Newman. “We’re representing [Jamaica] in Milan and Paris, then coming back home to do something fun that the entire community can enjoy.”