Portraits of Beautiful Humans: Briauna

Portraits of Beautiful Humans: Briauna

We joined forces with We Speak Modeling Agency for our denim campaign to support our inclusive vision and represent all of US. As we are. We Speak is committed to creating positive change in fashion advertising.

Each woman represented by the agency is selected for her positive outlook, healthy lifestyle, and unique features. In celebration of International Women’s Day (and our aligned vision of celebrating all women every day) we sat down with We Speak founder Briauna Mariah to learn a little more about her and We Speak, and talk about the industry at large.

Photography by Ronan Mckenzie

Describe yourself using only emojis:

Tell US a little bit more about yourself and We Speak.

I’m a quirky water-loving girl from the west coast. I started modeling in 2008 and moved to NYC in 2012 to pursue it as a career. During my transition to NYC, I developed an unhealthy relationship with the industry. I “knew” I had to change myself (lose weight) to be successful. I lost two inches around my waist during the first few weeks of city living. At my thinnest, I was told my thighs were “too doughy.” I was self conscious of my body and my skin. Shortly after my move, I began to break out into terrible cystic acne. Even today I struggle to love my skin. Self love/body love is not always easy and it’s an ongoing commitment.

We Speak began in 2013. I started out with basic industry knowledge. I had one goal and no real contacts: I planned to entirely uproot the fashion industry norm. The first few years, I worked day and night building my brand, my models, and my client base from the ground up. My reward: excited and thankful models who joined me on my journey.

Now I have the models, I have the clients, and people know of We Speak. It’s a serious contender in today’s fashion scene and I’m so proud of how far it’s come. Today, I work day and night tackling each new hurdle. I tackle beauty standards and chat with brands about pushing the industry forward. I find and polish new talent and push for diversity in campaigns. We Speak doesn’t only push diversity, but also protects the models. Models are paid on time and they’re not charged mysterious fees or even commissions. I involve the models in a lot more than jobs and castings. I encourage feedback on their experiences. I offer advice. They’re even helping me decide on how to rebrand the agency’s website, which I’m really excited about.

The day I realized I was running an agency and impacting lives in a real, tangible way has been my biggest reward of all.



What made you start We Speak?

My impression of the industry has always been so negative, but I  loved being in front of the camera. I felt bullied by agents. I never felt “enough.” Skinny enough. Outgoing enough. Fit enough. I was never paid on time. I even had to fight for my money after over 6 months of no pay. Surviving in New York is hard enough without an agency stringing you along without pay. I started to think, what if it doesn’t have to be this way? So I built these ambitious goals around myself. I considered where I wanted to see the industry. I formed what I thought an agency/model relationship should look like. I created the foundations of what We Speak should look like around those.

So many people tell me they wished they had an agency like We Speak when they started modeling. It’s a breath of fresh air to a lot of people - not only models. I saw the need in the industry for a healthier environment for models. I saw this massive gap between straight-sized models and plus-sized models. I thought: let’s celebrate EVERYONE. We Speak has been closing that gap ever since. We're treating models right and celebrating them for who they are. We aren't asking anyone to change or be someone else. My best advice to new models going to a casting for their first time is to be YOU. The tides are turning. Brands now see the importance of using relatable women of all types in their campaigns.


What's your ultimate vision for We Speak?

I envision non-traditional models dominating major fashion campaigns and runways. I see We Speak models at the forefront of that new fashion era. I’m sensing this important shift in the industry. Early during the development of the agency, people said it wasn't going to work. We Speak couldn't compete because the market was full. Yet, I found my very own niche where I could do things the way I thought they should be. I’m not happy conforming or breaking any of my values to be a top agency. We Speak isn’t on models.com or super connected overseas (yet). We Speak is making its own new “top” alongside a new community of models, brands, and like-minded people.



Where do you see our industry in 5 years?

I hate to say it because I love doing runway, but I don’t think the runways will be the same format as today for much longer. Brands are focusing on presentations during fashion weeks. They're finding more innovative ways to display and market their clothing.  

The biggest change I sense is this new era of models. Five years from now, high fashion will have so much diversity. I’m excited that young people get to grow up seeing a new beauty standard.


What does your idea of FASHION FREEDOM feel like?

To me, Fashion Freedom is being able to wear whatever I want and still feel empowered. Whether it’s a sweater and jeans on a brisk day, or I’m dressing it up with a fitted blazer and maroon pleather pants the next. Confidence comes from within, but a comfy outfit with a great fit doesn’t hurt.



What excites you about fashion today?

My models! I'm blessed to have surrounded myself with this beautiful, organic community of humans. I have a major girl crush on them all. Also, collaborating with progressive brands like Universal Standard is exciting for me. I’m happy I get to share this amazing space within the industry with you all.


If we gave you $200 today, what would you buy?

I’d spend it on my green room. I’m working on an indoor herb garden. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m excited to have some useful plants to liven up my space!