We’re so happy to see a more diverse representation of body types, genders, and ethnicities across a variety of industries, fashion included. One change-making pioneer we have to thank for that? Jane Belfry, founder of The BTWN, which is a talent agency and lifestyle site championing body diversity. Give the agency’s Instagram feed a quick scroll, and you’ll immediately understand the appeal: The BTWN represents a roster of people who are real, authentic, modern, relatable, uniquely beautiful, and typically underrepresented in the media. We sat down with Jane to chat through her professional journey, what she values in talent, the current state of the industry, and her hopes for the future.
How did the idea for The BTWN take shape, and what inspired you to delve full-time into that endeavor?
The BTWN started spring 2018 as a lifestyle site and newsletter—I pitched the idea to a few friends as a place to house our writing and content, which we weren’t seeing anywhere else in regards to bodies and body neutrality. We quickly took off on Instagram due mostly to people being drawn to our visuals and imagery. We used that to fuel strategic partnerships with brands and then quickly became a casting resource. I went full-time to launch our in-house modeling agency in December 2018—we now rep almost 30 models and also work as a creative agency, producing specialized work for different brands and products.
What was your career path up until the point you started The BTWN?
I started in the modeling industry, first as a model from a very young age, then went to go work at an agency straight out of high school in new faces development/image development. That took me into a career in editorial styling then eventually, most recently, personal shopping. I left that role just before starting The BTWN after being fatigued by fashion, uninspired, and working in a sector of the industry lacking in the type of representation and inclusivity I wanted to see.
What are the key qualities you look for when scouting new talent?
I get asked this all the time and always wish I had a better answer! It’s a kind of “I know it when I see it” type of thing. I look for people that embody our brand messaging which is strong, confident, fresh, and comfortable in their skin. I also look for special people that we don’t always see in advertising that I think reflect the consumers, whether that be because of body shape/size, skin tone, or uniqueness.
In your mind, what are the next steps industry leaders need to focus on to broaden the mission of inclusion?
I think often times people are still operating in very binary versions of plus sized vs. straight sized and I’d love to see brands be more open to booking talent with a wide range of body shapes and types within the sizes they offer. For example, there’s a very idealized version of a plus sized model; tall, hourglass, busty, slim waist, etc. and I’d love to see more variation that reflects the way the rest of the world really looks.
How do you foster and encourage a healthy relationship with your own body? How do you practice self-care?
I try to practice intuitive eating—I owe a great deal of what I know about that to the podcast Food Psych. I eat when I’m hungry, try my best to do so without guilt, and trust that I know what’s best for my own body. I love to cook, it definitely helps me feel very connected to food in a positive way. I also enjoy moving my body in ways that don’t feel like a chore, like walking a few miles with my dog instead of setting unrealistic expectations of a gym visit.
When do you feel most powerful?
When I’m not actively consumed with thoughts of my body, and can live and be in the moment.
Who or what is inspiring you at the moment, and why?
Our DMs are really inspiring, honestly—if I’m ever super drained and find it hard to feel motivated, I just take one quick scroll through the messages we get from our amazing followers.
What are your future plans for The BTWN?
We have been working on slowly expanding to LA (we’re based in New York) and our goal always is to expand our resources so that we can make the biggest difference possible in terms of representation. We also have a few secret projects in the works—one thing you can buy and one thing you can go to, but that’s all I’ll say for now!