W Athletic, the agency for the bold, the beautiful, the gifted and the extraordinary. I talk to Gareth Jenkins the founder of W Athletic to find out more about this unique agency, the changing nature of brands relationships with blogger and influencers, the background of W Athletic and much more. I hope you enjoy what he has to say.
1. How and when did W Athletic first come about?
My wife and co-founder Michelle Washington (hence the “W”) was modelling for a well known women’s fitness magazine back around 2006 and the photographer asked her if she knew any other models from a fitness background as he was getting sent models from a mainstream agency and spent most of his time correcting their posture and technique. At the time Michelle had about a dozen personal trainers working for her through her PT business W Fitness based in South Kensington and was able to pull a few together. At that time I had left my other employment as a director of a fitness company to take over the running of W Fitness as Michelle had become pregnant with our first child. So we ran the two businesses side by side for awhile and gradually built up the modelling business whilst running down the PT business. After Michelle had our second child end of 2007 we had more or less completed the transition over to running the agency full-time.
2. What do you think makes W Athletic unique from other modelling agencies out there?
I think a lot of agencies focus just on the look of a model, but we take a more 3D holistic approach. When we call models in we ask them about their life, how they keep fit, what their diet consists of, what skills they’ve learned or looking to learn. I remember when we started out 8 years ago the look on models faces when we would ask the models to demonstrate a press-up! No-one else was doing this in fact they were encouraging the total opposite. Back then it was all about the skinny waif look. Although we do not carry out mandatory fitness testing any more we always look at what the camera is showing us and what the model is telling and showing us. I think because of this our assignments tend to be a lot more dynamic which is a good thing as I think our models would get bored just being a mannequin.
3. How do you think the attitudes have changed in the modelling industry over the last year/s?
Well I think the success of our agency shows that the industry has embraced a lot more sportier, healthier look. Having been the first model agency to focus on this when it was a lot less cooler I can pinpoint the change in this country’s attitudes around the London 2012 Olympics. I think the whole event and GB’s success at these games inspired a lot of people to get into sports and fitness. At this time a lot of new sports brands, magazines started up and these factors combined with the growth of social media has driven the change. Look at what people are posting out on their social media – most of it is health & fitness related – exercises, healthy food they have prepared etc. This has overspilled into fashion and the mainstream now with most high street retailers and high end designers doing sports range.
4. Have you noticed a change in the way brands work with bloggers and influencers in the last few years?
Yes lots more are going direct to bloggers. Its a new market and would be interested to see how it evolves long term and what happens when the market reaches saturation point.
5. What does W athletic look for in a model/influencer they are looking to represent?
Well to follow on from the previous point there are so many bloggers doing a similar thing so ideally we are looking for someone to bring a bit of a twist to the theme. I think it also helps if the blogger has credentials to back up what they are discussing as well as an engaging personality. Just looking great doing a handstand on a beach doesn’t really cut the mustard. We would encourage people to think it through have a theme and educate without coming across as patronising.
6. Can you tell us about your background?
OK so after leaving local comprehensive in Essex with some O’Levels (yes really am that old!) spent a few years in a bank in the city then the next 17 years working in the health & fitness industry starting as a general assistant in a local authority leisure centre. Worked way up to managing one of London’s biggest leisure venues. In between worked for Champneys late 90’s (when they were based in Piccadilly) then onto opening Agua Spa at Ian Schrager’s Sanderson Hotel, I guess the Chiltern Hotel of its day. In terms of hobbies love most sports – football, cricket and rugby – played the first 2 to a decent level. Moved from Essex to Battersea (loved it) around 15 years ago and did what most people do after 2 kids and moved out a few years ago for more space, better schools etc.
7. What do you love most about your job?
Sounds cheesy and predictable but taking on someone who has no experience and confidence and working on them until they book their first major campaign always gives you a buzz. As many people as we see over the years you never forget the first time you saw a certain model – what they were wearing / how they came across / what they were doing in their life at that point.
8. What’s a typical day in the life of Gareth Jenkins?
Wake up late, feed 3 kids (9, 7 & 2), kiss the wife, race for the train and do daily commute from Surrey / Hants border to Richmond. Pick up a coffee at Alianti cafe and get in around 8.45am. Small talk with the team and then start work. My role has changed over the years. Used to be the main man, now the old boy sitting in the corner. Less Don Draper, more Bert Cooper! Mad Men fans will understand.
Now we have a proper team of bookers doing the daily bookings my role is to assist them and help with the contract negotiations and working with our accountants on the financial aspect of the business which increasingly takes up more time. I also am known to offer the odd opinion on new models – we now get over 700 applications a month so we all sit down once a week and discuss everyone in terms of who we want to see, who we need more pictures on before we are prepared to make a decision on seeing them or not and so on. The business has grown so much over the last 5 years or so, my role is more strategic making sure we can keep pace with that growth and ensuring we recruit the best team to deal with it. We are also relaunching the business as W Model Management in next few months, I guess I should have mentioned that earlier! We have been streamlining our model roster and now represent fewer talents than we did 7 years ago! When you think we have probably had in the region of 25,000 applications over this time frame I think that shows how we have evolved and improved our pool of talent and kept the standards very high.
You haven’t asked but I’ll tell you the worst part of the job… That’s deciding to tell models that you can no longer represent them. Some of which have been with us from the start and you’ve built up a great relationship with. Hoping they understand and don’t hate us or take it too personally.
9. Any favourite eating spots here in London?
Love new places but also quite a traditionalist. Last time I went out in London was to the newly renovated yet legendary Quaglino’s in St. James’s and it was superb – venue even more grander than before. Previous time at Quag’s was about 16 years earlier and somehow came out with one of their swish Q ashtrays designed by Conran. Funny thing is don’t even smoke but everyone was taking them as a souvenir. Hopefully this little plug will pay them back! For pre-dinner drinks close by the American Bar at The Stafford is a hidden secret you can have on me. Look out for the tiny passage off St. James’s Street into the courtyard and old converted stables and the bar is right there. Look out for the incredible collection of sporting memorabilia left behind by guests from all over the world.
10. What motivates you in the morning?
It’s a real pleasure to come to work. The office is opposite the Thames about 50m from the bridge. Richmond is the most beautiful place in London. Unfortunately a lot of big companies relocated there shortly after we moved in – EBay, PayPal, Gumtree etc right opposite us. Invariably rent and rates will get even higher but it still offers everything from station with main line and underground connections to great shops to old world charm. That and coming to work with some very funny, lovely individuals who keep me laughing all day and meeting some amazing new people from all walks of life.
For more information about Gareth and W Athletic visit;