Archive | June, 2010

Model and Talent Agent Ben Barry

28 Jun

Lunch with Mary 040

Date of lunch:
Monday, June 28, 2010

The company:
Ben Barry is the CEO of Ben Barry Agency Inc., a model and talent agency in Toronto. It’s a pretty amazing story because Ben started the agency when he was only 14. Ben is from Ottawa like me and I remember hearing about him and his agency when I was in high school. A friend of his was told she was “too big” to be a model by one of the local agencies so Ben called a magazine on her behalf and got her a gig. And the rest is history. The Ben Barry Agency focuses on representing models of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities, and is bringing diversity to fashion and the runway. Ben Barry is also partnered with a previous lunch guest of mine, Sunny Fong, as business director of Vawk.

The food:
We ate at Kokyo Japanese Restaurant at Yonge and Alexander. They have a huge patio but it was so hot out today that we chose to sit inside. I’d love to come back and sit on the patio when the air is a little less muggy. We both had lunch specials, a variety of sushi rolls, salad and miso soup. The sushi was fresh and delicious. We both drank water and green tea. Total bill was $22 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Ben has also written a book called Fashioning Reality – A new generation of entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, Ben has a definite business mind and it’s fascinating to listen to him and how he sees business opportunities in everything. He offered advice to me regarding my blog and how I might be able to add a bit of a business slant to the whole thing. It’s something I have been struggling with for awhile, had some hits and misses. But listening to him talk about business possibilities, as well as his book, has re-ignited my lifelong dream of writing a book – and hopefully using this blog and what I’ve learned and done so far as a great first step.

The lunch:
Although it’s hard to understand how a 14 year old can become an incredible advocate for diverse definitions of beauty and healthy body image, I am glad it turned out that way. And I’m not the only one.. He was noticed by the talkshow queen herself, Oprah, and appeared on the show as one of 20 teens who will change the world. I’ve never met anyone who’s met Oprah. Incase you’re wondering, he says she’s very nice. Him and his agency have also been featured on CNN, People Magazine, Globe and Mail and more.

When Ben explains what he is doing with his company, it makes so much sense. Women come in all sizes, ages, shapes, etc. so why not make and showcase clothing that fits all of these variations. And Ben also was sure to point out that he isn’t trying to eliminate thin models but instead co-exist in the industry and offer an alternative. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty really embodies this belief. Incase you were wondering, Ben’s agency provided the models for the campaign.

Ben explained that at Toronto Fashion Week, Sunny Fong was the only designer who used plus size and older models (although Joe did have one plus-size model in their show so I don’t want to forget to mention that). But Ben is seeing a shift in the industry and how it is regular people helping to push this forward. Fashion isn’t only for the big designers anymore. With blogs like The Sartorialist just picking people off the street and showcasing their awesome style, it becomes obvious that fashion really is defined by the people and it should look like the people – from skinny all the way to plus, all shapes, all backgrounds, all ages.

Aside from running the agency and working with Vawk, Ben is also working towards his PhD at Cambridge. He is doing research into whether women are more interested in buying products that are advertised using the typical model or using models that more represent regular women. I’ll let Ben discuss those results once his research is complete but I think it’s pretty obvious what I think the results will be.

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Rural Alberta Advantage band member Amy Cole

17 Jun

Lunch with Mary 039

Date of lunch:
Thursday, June 17, 2010

The company:
Amy Cole is one third of the excellent trio Rural Alberta Advantage (RAA) on vocals, keyboard and percussion. She is also a good friend of mine from university and has slowly turned into a rock star since graduation. I nearly DIED of jealousy the first time I saw her singing on stage at the Horseshoe. Amy recently returned from a European tour that had immediately followed a tour across the United States. Since I know I can never be a rock star myself, I decided to take Amy out of lunch and hear what it’s all about.

The food:
We ate at a wonderful little spot called Calico Café, which is pretty much right in between Lansdowne and Dufferin on Bloor. It’s a vegetarian restaurant with a great vegetable and herb garden by the patio. It’s like a little oasis right off Bloor Street and tasty too. I had a grilled portobello and sweet potato hummus sandwich with salad and Amy had a mixed green salad with tempeh. We both had cranberry ginger lemonades. The owner was the chef, waiter, dishwasher and busboy and let me know that this weekend is the one year anniversary of Calico Café. You should all check it out. Total bill was $22 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Since this was a rock star lunch, I figured a rock star lunch lesson was most appropriate. I asked Amy what her favourite shows have been. She said doing shows in France was amazing because they treat bands so well. Backstage they provide wheels of cheese and red wine. Free cheese and French wine, I can’t imagine a better lesson – start a band, get gig in Paris, eat, drink, enjoy, repeat.

The lunch:
Amy had been in the RAA and was playing quite a few shows in Toronto and other spots in Canada and what seems like overnight (but obviously wasn’t) the band pretty much exploded. It was so amazing to have a friend as part of a Toronto darling band and I was excited to have lunch and hear from Amy how it all happened.

It’s such a perfect grassroots story, much like the feel of the band itself. A blogger in Nova Scotia called Herohill wrote about Rural Alberta Advantage and the post and the music caught the eyes and ears of a lawyer in LA. He is a big music fan and sent eMusic a note about the RAA. eMusic then went on to feature the band and through the feature, Saddle Creek heard their tunes and signed them to their label. And the rest is history. Next thing I know, I have to drive to Hamilton just to be able to get tickets to see Amy perform.

Amy talked about some of the big moments so far in this crazy ride that she’s on. She said they booked their first NYC show at a bar called Piano’s. They were just hoping that people would show up. But once they got there, the show was sold out and when they started to perform, the whole crowd knew all the words. The experience was pretty surreal as they had never performed in the US before, and thanks to the internet they had this amazing fan base.

The incredible experience continued as the band hit Europe and people in London knew all the words too. The RAA plays songs about Alberta, so I kinda love that they have this international following of totally Canadian music. They did try to play a show in Spain but were held up due to the volcano. But Amy said she couldn’t really complain about being stranded for a few days in Barcelona. I wouldn’t complain either.

The RAA will be playing at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in July so be sure to stop by if you’re in the area. Right now, the RAA is in Toronto, working on their next album and I can’t wait to hear it. I like to live vicariously through Amy. I hope she continues to have these amazing adventures and I can continue to listen to her awesome stories and pretend they’re mine.

Calico Cafe Garden The Calico Café garden