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Onyx Models: Creating Niches For Aspiring Talents



Modelling is considered to be different from other types of public performance, such as acting or dancing. A model’s job is to model clothes made by fashion designers and brands and a modeling agency helps to groom models. ANTHONY ADA ABRAHAMwrites on one of the biggest modeling agency from the North known as “Onyx Models’ championed by Mr. Okanlawon Tijjani.

A model is a person with a role either to promote, display or advertise commercial products (notably fashion clothing in fashion shows), or to serve as a visual aid for people who are creating works of art or to pose for photography. Modelling include: fashion, glamour, fitness, bikini, fine art, body-part, promotional, and commercial print models. Models are featured in a variety of media formats including: books, magazines, films, newspapers, internet and television. Fashion models are sometimes featured in films and reality TV show.

For  Mr. Okanlawon Tijjani born and bred in the great town of Zaria, Kaduna state and married with two children, he started off as a photographer in 1999 and founded his modeling agency in 2006 after his visit to Cairo, Egypt.

As a professional photographer, he was intrigued by the art of fashion photography and the creativity involved.

As at 2006, there wasn’t any modeling agency in Zaria and day after day his passion for the creative industry grew. During his second visit to Cairo, he went with his wife to Kodak studio in Maadi and immediately, used the opportunity to know more about fashion photography. As soon as  he landed Nigeria, the “Onyx Modelz” was born in the great city of Zaria.

According to Mr Okanlawon,his passion and desire for grooming the youth necessitated Onyx Modelz, he said:

“I was in a joint photography business with a friend called Gbenga Salami who was instrumental in my professional photography training. The name of our photography brand then was “ Onix”, which was coined from ‘Oni’ ( Oni is a Yoruba family name).

“I had a trip to Alexandria, Egypt and during my stay there we went to a shop where artifacts were sold and there, I saw a gem called ‘ Onyx ‘. I never knew about it before that ‘Onyx was mentioned in the Bible as one of the precious stones.

“From then onward, I rebranded the photography studio name to ‘ Onyx’. In 2008 when I wanted registering the agency, the name ‘Onyx Models’ wasn’t available and because of my love for the name Onyx we just added ‘Z’ to model and from then we have been using ‘Onyx Modelz,’ he explained.

But what criteria does the modeling agency use in picking aspiring talents? Mr. Tijjani said they run an academy that train aspiring models. “At the academy we give room to all sizes and heights. As long as a person has interest in the modeling industry. We are proud to be one of the ace modeling agency in Nigeria that introduced theoretical classes to modeling training. Way back in Nigeria, agencies only concentrated on catwalk grooming. From 2007 we introduced 4 theory courses alongside catwalk trainings at the agency. The courses were 1. Introduction to Modeling, 2.Modeling Ethics 3. Photography and 4. Body Care/Dieting. Later in 2010 we added ‘Entrepreneurship’ discussions to the curriculum,” he pointed out.

However, after training a model at the academy arm of the agency , they look at some specific elements in a model before signing the model as an onyx model. The criteria are : Individual character, availability, statistics and readiness to abide by modeling ethics.

“Modeling is first an art and it is also a career in the fashion /creative industry. Most aspiring models takes modeling activities as a place of fun. The inability of seeing modeling as a career is a factor that encourages lackadaisical attitudes toward modeling. Most successful models are those who have passion and long time plan for their modeling career,”

Mr. Okanlawon Tijjani said.

Many people who knew Mr Okanlawon saw him as a renowned photo journalist based in the North. So how has that inspired his decision in kicking off this project as big as this, he revealed that photography and Modeling are closely related in the fashion industry and they are difficult to separate.

He also stressed that one cannot divorce a model from a fashion photographer likewise a photographer from a model. His creativity in photography has won him lots of awards and accolades which he’s still using to promote modeling and models in northern Nigeria.

After all said and done, are there any challenges so far? He said there are lots of challenges but that has not deterred him from doing what he knows best.

“Operating a modeling agency from northern part of Nigeria in itself is a big challenge. Parental support is low because the industry is yet to be embraced by the society. There are lots of wrong perceptions about models and modeling activities.

Also the lack of availabilities of jobs is a big challenge here in the north. Lagos is Nigeria New York in the fashion industry. The most challenging aspect of job sourcing for models is the cost and risk involved in going for castings in Lagos. And you know after every casting, selected models will have to report for fittings and main event.

“Imagine a young model who travelled from Kaduna to Lagos just to attend casting? Sometimes they spend 24 hours on the road! I have written lots of emails to major fashion event organisers in Lagos to look into the plight of these young models and try to always have a casting zone in the north or do online castings for models outside Lagos. This will  go a long way to boost and encourage models in the north.

“Another challenge we had was in the days of insecurity caused by the dreaded Boko Haram. As at 2011, I had to operate from Lagos because the entertainment activities in the North was practically shot down, “ he added.

A deeper look at  Onyx Model revealed that they are a modeling agency that has the vision of empowering youths, and a mission of using the fashion industry as a platform to achieve its vision.

“We believe in character moulding and educational guidance to all our models. We work mostly with models who are ready to live a lifestyle that is worthy of emulations. Most models that find it difficult to work with us are always those who are lazy, doesn’t have food discipline, and those who are not ready to stop certain lifestyle that is against our ethics.

“We have empowered youths in so many ways and have helped some to start SMEs. During our entrepreneur classes we always encourage models to learn a trade that is related to modeling like, hairstylist, Make up , photography, fashion blogging, fashion designing etc. So if you want to be a successful model with onyx, you must be hardworking,” he advised.

What are the project the Agency is embarking on and what is Mr Tijani’s  message to young aspiring model who want to be a part of this project?

“Right now we are working on partnerships with our international friends and agencies for model placements. And also have our yearly fashion event “ KADUNA FASHION & MUSIC FEST” . The 2018 edition was postponed because of sponsorship. Most companies are just coming out of the aftermath of the recession that hit the Nigeria economy in 2016/2017. So by the grace of God, 2019 will be great.

“To all aspiring models, first they should believe the fact that modeling is a career and secondly they should avoid all negative and immoral  acts . Do not let any photographer, agency, MUA , friends deceive you into doing stuffs you will regret later , don’t compromise yourself,” he advised.





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