Joel Bough, Head Of Scouting At Elite London

Industry EML UK
Joel Bough began his career in the fashion industry working for magazines such as Arena Homme+. Now Head of Scouting at Elite London, his job is to find young people who could become new models, and looking after them as they take their first steps into the industry. His job takes him to concert venues, train stations and city centres around the UK - anywhere where he might spot a future top model. We sat down with him to ask him how he got into the industry, what he looks for when he's searching a crowd and what you can do to prepare for EML.

What are you most looking forward to about EML this year?

Every year, it gets bigger and better. Everyone's talking about the fact that we're opening up the competition for Influencers. The competition is getting a lot broader and more diverse. It's going to make the competition more dynamic and fresh, because we're going to be seeing different types of people come forward. I'm excited to see what happens!

Photo © Joel Bough

What’s new for the competition in the UK this year?

We've got some really nice ideas for making the scouting bigger and more inclusive, and we're going to be doing open calls at the office this year which we’ve never done before. It’s about being open to everyone to come in and show who they are. And if you don't make it to the agency, maybe we'll see you along the way somewhere! We’re putting a lot of energy into the summer scouting, where we visit festivals around the country and scout for new models directly. We’re going all over the UK, and to the Republic of Ireland at the end of the summer for the first time in a few years. Hopefully that means that we can find really amazing Irish applicants. So I'm excited about that.

What do you look for in a model?

This is something that is hard to vocalize or to put your finger on because the real answer is I don't know what I'm looking for until I see it, but I think that in itself is a good description for what I'm looking for. I'm looking for someone who stops me in my tracks. There are a lot of beautiful people in the world but I think to be a successful model you've got to have a certain star power, something new, something fresh. And that doesn't mean that you've got to always look different from everyone else but sometimes it's like a certain presence and attitude, and naturalness, if that's a word. All of those things that make a star a star. 

Have you always wanted to work in the model industry?

I was always aware of the modelling industry, I think even from an age where I didn't realise that working in the industry would be a possibility for me. But when I realised that not only was it in reach, but it was something that I had a natural aptitude for, I was keen to get involved! I was always very nerdy with the catwalk shows. When I was 17, 18 and 19, it was a big part of my life. I don't know if they're still around, but there were model fan forums with a big community of fans that were very interested in learning about who all the new models were and what they were doing. During fashion week, you'd be posting about which models were walking in which shows. This would have been in the mid to late 2000s, there was something fun and exciting about being a part of an online community who were all interested in the same topic. Everyone was swotting up on who was who and with which agency, so, for example, when a fashion show happened, within three hours, there would be a race to name all the models!

This was before Instagram, because today, you have the models putting their own face out there, you can look them up and see what agency they are with – how did you do it?

I remember that a lot of the modelling agencies would post their show packages online, on or their own websites, so when we didn't know who a new face was, we'd go through the show packages of every agency, and we'd try and match up faces and say, “could it be this model?” And sometimes, there were certain people that were a part of the forum community who either worked in the industry or who had friends who did, and they might have insider info, so you'd have one member of the forum that would say, “Oh I know that this girl is the new face at Supreme,” for example. And then we'd all start posting about them. It was a really fun time, it honed my skills, at what it is I do, which is looking at faces and identifying what it is that like makes them special unique! It’s almost like reading faces.

Photo © London College of Fashion

Did you study at university?

Yes. I went to London College of Fashion. I studied a journalism course there called Fashion Promotion. And when I graduated, I was really keen to go into magazines, so I became an editorial assistant. Due to my passion for models, I ended up taking on a producer role at the magazines I worked at and I was always very heavily involved in casting models for the shoots. I started at Elite London when I had a meeting with the directors and they suggested to me that I might enjoy being Scout which I hadn't considered that before. I didn't know that that was a full-time position. I knew that there were model scouts that work for themselves, but I never knew that there was such thing as an in-house Scout. So, when they suggested that to me I thought, “Oh yeah that's the best of both worlds, because I get to work for an agency but I don't have to sit at a desk all day and I can be involved with models and discover them, and do what I love!” It was important for me not to be chained to a desk, because when I was a casting director, your life is quite varied because you're always working with different clients so you're not in one place all the time. 

What do you love about your job?

What I love is that I get to be the one that discovers a face that might really change the industry. It's a really nice moment for me when I send around a group e-mail with photos of someone I've found, and there's an amazing response from everyone. Or when a girl or boy comes into the office and everyone's very excited to get them on board, and then seeing them do well, travelling the world and making friends. I think it's the most rewarding part of what I do. 

Photo © Joel Bough

What are the challenges?

I would definitely say the demands of the industry is a challenge because you're always working with other people's perception of what model should be, and sometimes you want to debunk that to a certain extent. That's always a struggle. I feel that we do well to push through expectations as an agency. Another challenge is that the summer schedule is very gruelling because there are a lot of festivals all in a row, and it's not like a normal workday, because you're walking around, it's hot, it's cold, it's raining. Of course I’m very grateful, because it's fun and rewarding, but the challenge is that it is incredibly tiring. But I’m definitely not stuck behind desk!

Who or what inspires you to succeed?

What inspires me is other models that are incredible, and I wish I had found myself!  When I see really, really standout models, whether that be on Instagram, or just new faces coming up in the industry, and you go, “Oh my God, I wish I could have found that face!” - that propels me to go further. But you can, and so I push myself to get out there and to find them! 

How do you relax?

There's a side of my job that kind of crosses over into my personal life, which is I like to travel. I like to see cities. You know I like to be outdoors. And that's something that you can do while scouting which is great. I like cooking, I'm getting into making Indian recipes. I'm absolutely obsessed with Bon Appetit Mag. They have a YouTube channel, and they've got five or six chefs that are either writers for the magazine and have become online personalities because of the YouTube channel which has been incredibly successful and that all the way the videos are filmed is hilarious. It's not just a food video. It's like kind of comedy meets food meets YouTube. And they're just brilliant. I also really enjoy exercise, I love going to the gym, doing HIIT workouts and weights, and I recently got into indoor climbing!

What is your advice to anyone applying to EML in 2019?

Be yourself and present the best version of yourself. Try and train for it, both physically but also mentally. I’d advise people prepare for all outcomes. Run through all outcomes with a friend or family member; run through winning and being successful, run through coming somewhere in the middle and having to find your way, as someone that didn't quite make the Top 15, and then prepare yourself for rejection, because it might just happen. I’d suggest role playing each scenario with your family or your friends and make sure that you feel comfortable in whatever happens, so that you've got a plan. And for each scenario, bring along some questions of what you might want to ask the team – if you win, you might have different questions to if you don’t, because there may still be a way for you to model. EML is really a beginning, it’s never the end of the story!  

If you didn’t do what you do, what would be your dream job?

I think that it would be so fun to live life as one of the world's most in demand models! Because it's crazy and it's fun, and you meet a million people, and you travel the world and you make a lot of money and it's a pretty good life! I think that would be amazing. You get given clothes by designers, and go do shoots all over the world. Why would you not want to be a top model!? 

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