ISMAEL SANTANA VASQUEZ is someone who stands out from the crowd. His overflowing passion, positivity, and belief in oneself is unignorable. Paired with his tireless work ethic, it’s no wonder he is where he is today. In this episode of Citizens, we spend time with the entrepreneur and top model agent to talk about business and following your instincts.

04 Jan 2021

Paolo gattone

Hey, Ismael. You own not one but two successful businesses — a modeling agency and clothing store. Did you always want to be in fashion?

“Yeah, honestly. When I was young my biggest dream was to make people feel and look beautiful. That’s what I always wanted. Growing up, I started to dress myself and realised clothing is something that I really like. So I started my clothing store. But at the end of the day, I thought clothing is not going to help people, they will just feel beautiful for a short period of time. They’re not going to be happy forever. So, based on my catwalk coaching and scouting skills, I decided to create a modeling agency. Now, I can give people a chance and help them achieve careers in fashion."

How many models do you represent today?

“I think 80 or 90 in total. Some of the models I find are really young, age 10 to 11. I have some that I discovered at 12 and now they are 18. I’ve been with them at birthdays, we’ve celebrated together, we’ve cried together, we’ve seen big shows together. I’m there for everything because I have been running the two companies by myself, no assistants, nothing. It’s quite intense."


Ismael Santana Vasquez is someone who stands out from the crowd. His overflowing passion, positivity, and belief in oneself is unignorable. Paired with his tireless work ethic, it’s no wonder he is where he is today. In this episode of Citizens, we spend time with the entrepreneur and top model agent to talk about business and following your instincts.

What motivates you to stay on top of everything?"

“Honestly, really just the fact that I can make someone happy. I can make people feel worth it. I like when someone can look at themselves and say ‘I am somebody’. When you see it in someone’s eyes, that feeling is priceless. I will always aim for that, no matter what, that’s the goal."

How do you select the models that you work with?

“I know the faces that some clients want. That’s part of doing the job very well. But, I select the models that I have based on feeling. My heart has to say, ‘yes’. For me, it doesn’t matter if they’re handicapped, if they're trans, I don’t care what they look like. I have to feel something special. If they make me really emotional and have a big story, I know which clients and brands they can get. That's how I start to pick the models, when I speak to them and get a feeling, that’s when I know I can give them a career. If I don’t feel like I can be myself with them, if I get a bad vibe. I don’t pick them."

So, it’s all about personality and feeling.

“Yeah, if I can be myself around someone, or they can make me really happy, or their stories make me cry, I just know they’ll be a good model. That’s also why the name of the company is Known. I just know when I have someone in front of me. It’s not a coincidence. Every season I always deliver strong faces because I believe in them and I don’t give up. My models are special. I love my job, I love everyone I represent, and I think they know it."

Do you have a favourite scouting success story?

“There are so many I could tell, we could talk all day. A nice story from last season is about this model I have, Delta. When he came to the agency for the first time, I saw him and said, ‘You're beautiful but you need to work on your body. You really need to listen and focus. I want you to put work in.’ Three times he came to the agency and I said, ‘No, come back when you’re ready. You didn’t practice enough.’ Then he called me and said, ‘I got scouted and they really want to work with me.’ I said, ‘Go ahead sign with them. That’s fine. You know what you’re going to get with me.’ He said, ‘Yes, that's why I want to work with you and I’m convinced that you’re the only one who can give me the career that I want.’ The last time he came in, he really worked on his body, he was in good shape, and he showed me that he learned. So I signed him. Then I brought him to Milan for fashion week. All the models I brought did well, except him. But I didn’t give up, I knew he was a star. So, I decided to go to the castings with him. Before each casting, I practiced the walk with him, talked to him, and told him that I believed in him. We went in and the client loved him and booked him. He did the last show in Milan. Then, the models and I went to Paris. I worked and practiced more with Delta. Built up his confidence and this time he got everything. All the big shows."

You’re very hands-on.

“Yes, I travel with the models. If we stay in a cheap hotel, we all stay in a cheap hotel, even me. If we have to get there by bus, I'm going by bus. If we go out, we all go out together. If we go home, we go home together."

Do you have help or is it just you?

“Just me. I really like to prove to myself that I can do my job well. So far, I’ve been successful at it. I have both women and men doing the big shows which is rare. There aren’t a lot of agents that are good at managing both men and women. But I’m a bit stronger in men. I think girls always want to be pretty, because they’ve always been told they have to be. But I don't like that stigma. I always tell the girls, you can be a tom boy girl, you can be a lesbian girl, you can be anything, as long as you are you at my company."

Are you always keeping an eye out for new talent? Are there places that you go?

“You know, a chef never reveals his secret. But right now, I don’t have time to scout. I believe God will give you what you deserve. I don't like to go scouting because I don't like to chase money. Sometimes, I'll look online because I don’t have what I need for a client. But I like to think everything that happens is luck and faith. I never like to go on the hunt. I am always waiting for the right time. If someone sees something special in you, they will find you."

Why is diversity important to you?

“Diversity is very important. It's not just about the face, it's about the personality. I think everyone has something to bring to the table. I think different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds are very good to have. You can feel inspired by everyone's stories. I feel so educated and I learned so much from different people and their different backgrounds. I learned to have a bigger heart than I had before just by having all the different people in my life."

How would you describe your work style?

“Sleep is for sheep."

Personal style?

“I don't know. I could go from super chic to super street. I like to be me. There’s no persona. I think I would just describe it as fashionable because I always want to look nice. These days, it's comfortable but elegant, because I really want to feel like I can breathe. When I’m working, doing a photoshoot, walking, I don't want to feel stuck."

What are your future goals?

“For my life I want to be happy, healthy, and I want to be loved by the people I love. Especially my family. I just don’t want to let people down. I want to be remembered as a loved person who gave people chances. That would make me so happy. For my businesses, I would like to have more freedom. I don’t want to have to be at the shop all the time. I want to hire one or two people who can continue to do the work when I'm not there. I always want to work, but now that I’m getting older, I’m recognizing that it's nice to have a little bit of rest and a little bit of time for yourself at the beginning of the day."

Have you found anything inspirational lately?

“For me, I’m inspired by this time of reflection that we have during COVID. This is the time to understand who you are and find peace with yourself. Not thinking about luxury. It's about being a human. Being happy with the things we have and our surroundings. Being there for others and not always putting yourself first."

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