• Juach Deng and Rin Models (Supplied)Source: Supplied
At just 21, South Sudan-born Juach Deng has started Rin Models in the hope of providing more diversity in the Australian fashion industry.
Alyssa Braithwaite

25 Aug 2016 - 2:48 PM  UPDATED 25 Aug 2016 - 2:53 PM

A young refugee from South Sudan has launched Australia's first modelling agency to solely represent dark-skinned models.

Juach Deng started Rin Models with his cousin Rin Dut, a budding fashion designer originally from Kenya, who was setting up his own label and looking for some models to show off his designs.

The pair were amazed by how hard it was to find dark-skinned models, and decided to form their own agency to fill the hole in the market.

"It was really hard to find a dark-skinned model - there weren't that many options in Australia," Deng tells SBS.

"The industry is actually improving slowly, which is good to see, but it lacks diversity." 

Deng started Rin Models in 2015, named in honour of his cousin who tragically passed away in a drowning accident in late 2014, before their dream could become a reality.

"When I first launched the agency and sent emails to designers and photographers, the response I received back was just amazing," Deng says.

"People were saying, it's a really good idea because we have trouble finding dark-skinned models in this industry. 

"We don't want it to be interpreted in the wrong way, and we aren't saying the industry is racist. We're just opening up a market that isn't there and giving people more options. It just felt right."  

Many of the models represented by Rin Models so far come from East African countries such as South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, but Deng says they are interested in models from a range of backgrounds.

Deng and his family fled the war in South Sudan and settled in Kenya for a few years, before coming to Australia in 2004 when he was just nine.

Now 21 and living in Adelaide, he runs Rin Models full time, while also working part time as a carpenter to help support his fledgling business. He has also set up a Pozible campaign in the hope of growing it further.

"Coming from where we came from, I guess when you get given an opportunity you go for it," Deng says.

"[The first year of business has] been a rollercoaster. There's a week when I'll just be amazed at some of the jobs that I'm getting, and then it will be a bit quiet. But it's picking up. It's just exposure that you need, I guess."

Deng is not afraid of hard work, and is determined to make Rin Models a success, says Adelaide art gallery owner Paul Greenaway, who has been his mentor for the past three years.

"I think he is extraordinary. To have come from that background and the tragedies here in Australia, and to be so positive and so entrepreneurial, it's just wonderful," says Greenaway, who has helped him draft model contracts and provided general business advice.

"He's on a very steep learning curve, but he knows that and he's not frightened to climb it. He's prepared to get in there and work as hard as he can, and he is working hard. He's basically put his life on hold to do this."

Deng's hope is that Rin Models is successful and that his models gain national and international exposure, walking for global labels like Gucci and Prada.

"That would just be amazing, because Rin's name would just go further than ever imagined," Deng says. 

"He really loved fashion and I think for his name to have a mark in fashion, that's something that just would make me really happy, because I know he'd be happy."

Catch up on SBS News: Calls grow to strengthen diversity in the fashion industry

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