A Q&A With IMG Brawn Model Zach Miko

A Q&A With IMG Brawn Model Zach Miko

Zach opens up about becoming IMG’s first “Brawn” male model and how the fashion industry is moving towards more diverse representation.
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This conversation has been edited for clarity.

Nadia Boujarwah: Most folks probably know you from your work and modeling, including being IMG’s first Brawn model.


Zach Miko: That’s right.


NB: Tell us how you became, Brawn is the official…


ZM: Brawn is what we call it inside the IMG world. So yes, just a little quick rundown on how I got into this crazy thing. I moved to New York City when I was about 18 years old or 19 years old, in order to pursue a career in musical theater. Believe it or not. And then, upon auditioning and whatnot, I found out that I was hopelessly outclassed by the actual Broadway performers. So,  I just switched my focus from more theater to TV and film. And I did a bunch of tiny things. So I was in Wolf of Wall Street.


NB:   Tell us a couple.


ZM: I’ve been in Limitless. I was in Shades of Blue, which was Jennifer Lopez’s cop drama. And then I did a bunch of commercials for Allstate, and Progressive, and ESPN, and all just a bunch of Canadian, Rogers Communications, which is a Canadian internet company. I was working, I was happy, but I wasn’t this huge star or anything like that. But I was doing well enough to be working and have an agent and whatnot. 


And one day I get a call from my agent and she says, Hey, what’s your waist size? And she normally doesn’t ask me that. So I told her, I’m a 40 or 42, why what’s up? And she says, well, I got this random casting from Target. They’re looking for a big and tall guy. I went into the casting. Didn’t think anything of it. I’ve never modeled before. I’d never been that comfortable in my skin. Took a few photos. And then about an hour later, I got a phone call saying I booked it. And I was like, oh, that’s great. I did something with Target. That’ll be fun. Still didn’t think anything that big of it because you get little bookings all the time. And I was thinking, I’m going to have rent for the next month. That’s going to be awesome.


And then I went in and I did my first shoot with them. And I didn’t know, it was the first time they’d ever used a man of size more than the average size, in any sort of ad or campaign, or anything like that. The samples didn’t fit that great. I was like, oh, this was probably going to be my last time. But then they continued to book me for the next three months straight. And then, that’s how I started modeling.


I ended up doing a story in the New York Post. And then, luckily for me, apparently, Ivan Bart, the president of IMG Models, at the time, read the New York post every morning. And he saw me and I get a direct message on Instagram. And it was from Ivan Bart. And I thought it was a prank at first, but then I researched and I was like no, this is him. This is the real deal. And he asked me in for an interview,


I went to the IMG offices. And Ivan started telling me about his vision, and how he’s made IMG this place of diversity and inclusion and evolving the fashion industry. I was like, you are speaking all the stuff that I’d ever hoped for because I never thought someone my size could ever be a model.


NB: Wow.  You were discovered.

"It's pretty amazing that there was such stagnation in the industry for so long. But I think with the internet, and the outcry, and communities coming together, we're finally talking in the only language that these companies understand."

ZM: Yes, it was literally like that is how most modeling works. Someone just one day goes, you want to do this thing? And you’re either ready to jump at it or not. I guess.


NB: So what was the world of Brawn modeling before that? Did it just not exist? 


ZM: So, it didn’t quite exist. It did not exist the way it exists in our industry today. For a long time, what the standard was in big and tall modeling was usually, when male models like your typical straight male models, got older, they transitioned over to big and tall. And so, they were still very handsome, very, very fit, still had six packs and all that stuff. But they were older gentlemen than your typical, 17 to 22 year old model. And that’s actually how I really learned to model from those guys. Specifically, Chris Collins is an absolutely incredible model. Chris Collins was the face of Polo for 20 years. And he was one of those guys who had made the transition, and started doing more big and tall stuff. 


NB: That’s fascinating. Had you ever noticed as a shopper before, that there weren’t people who look like you in any of the ads?


ZM: Oh yes, absolutely. Nothing was more frustrating than when you’re going online and you’re looking for something to wear and you see this perfect V of a man with his tiny waist and his perfect arms and flat stomach. I learned what I would look like in clothes by watching what my dad wore. 


NB: One of the big topics that we talk about a lot on this series is representation. And how critical it is to be able to really push the boundaries of representation, to create moments, spaces for a more diverse group of people to really be showcased, and to be front and center. And obviously, there are so many dimensions in which that’s true, but the detention that we’re most focused on is size diversity. And in a lot of ways, I think that that’s almost incorrectly been primarily a female conversation.


ZM: Yes. It definitely was, but I always say that’s because, especially in the modeling world, and in fashion in general, women are the ones who opened the doors in this industry. And men didn’t come along until, 25 years later, we snuck through the door and it wouldn’t have been possible if women like Emmy [the first plus size model], hadn’t opened that door for us in the first place.


NB: What do you think it’s taken for that to change? 


ZM: It’s pretty amazing that there was such stagnation in the industry for so long. But I think with the internet, and the outcry, and communities coming together, we’re finally talking in the only language that these companies understand. And that’s dollars because you can preach body positivity and acceptance all you want. They, the companies and these designers aren’t going to change anything until money is being spent. 


NB:  Yes. I mean, the thing that has always frustrated me as a plus-size shopper, in that equation, that like the outcome of that is that, to your point around brands being hesitant to invest, or not being sure if it’s worth the investment. It’s one of the only places in retail where the onus is actually on the customer. 


ZM: In men’s clothing 40 is the average men’s waist size in America. So, if most brands stop between 36, 38, maybe they go up to 40. That’s 50% of the country that you’re just, man, they’ll never buy it. I’m just not even going to try.


NB: Thank you. It takes one person to really start a new conversation and for people to pay attention in a way that can create change across an entire industry.


ZM: And across the entire country. Just see the amazing things that have happened, just with the protests across our country. If one voice becomes a thousand, which becomes a million, and it’s just how we have to go forward.


NB: Absolutely. Well, tell everyone how we can follow along with your work, and any exciting new projects coming down the pipe.


ZM: I’m most active on my Instagram @ZachMiko. 


NB: Well, we are excited to follow along and hear all about your projects going forward. So thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for sparking a conversation that is long overdue.

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