Growing up the daughter of a Simpson County Southern Baptist preacher probably isn’t in the biography of many high-end fashion models. That doesn’t matter to Jamie Ainsworth.
The Magee native has graced the covers of Atlanta magazines and walked the prestigious runways of New York Fashion Week but is comfortable and confidant in her decision to come home and start a modeling agency in Mississippi that caters to models whether they are just starting out or are ready to take it to the next level.
“I think I have a different take. I want to cater to the models,” the owner of JEA Model Management says. “I don’t want to keep them in the dark. I want them to be comfortable with me and for us to be on the same page.”
Ainsworth opened her agency in February and says speed and professionalism are the keys to the modeling kingdom.
“If you can get something done really quick and its good quality then its worth the money,” she says.
“Right now I’m in the process of recruiting and getting my models because I want to get them trained first then be able to get the work.”
The portfolio development that Ainsworth provides has a dual purpose to instill quality standards and training in Mississippi models seeking local or regional work while also prepping the few that want to go further into potential long-term careers in larger markets.
Knowledge is currency in the fashion industry and Ainsworth wants to represent women (and men) who are trained and know everything there is to know about the process, making it easier on the designers, stylists, and photographers they will work with.
JEA modeling coaching lessons are weekly and cover everything from how to walk on a runway to having the right photos or comp cards (headshots that list a model’s height, measurements and contact info).
“There are a lot of pretty girls but there’s a difference when someone’s been taught,” Ainsworth says. “I’m wanting to take those pretty girls and teach them how to be models.”
Ainsworth graduated from Simpson Academy and studied fashion merchandising at Mississippi State University and the International Academy of Design & Technology in Tampa, Fla. Her real knowledge of the industry comes from having modeled herself, a world she entered at the age of 13 after attending a photo shoot in Hattiesburg.
“My mom, bless her heart. She probably worked her butt off to try to figure out what do I do with this child and where do I take her,” Ainsworth says.
Ainsworth signed with BMG Models in Chicago at 15 and started working on her portfolio before coming back to Jackson to sign with modeling agent Sharon Ward. Her earliest jobs were handing out flyers locally for tax services and fragrance companies. At 23, she signed with an Atlanta agency and began working for magazines and attending castings during New York Fashion Week.
In addition to modeling, Ainsworth has retail experience, spending five years as a manager for Mississippi designer Libby Story McRight.
One thing Ainsworth tells her models up front is that she can’t guarantee them work.
“I can send someone out with all these pictures but it always depends on the client,” she says.
There is great income inequality with only a few supermodel incomes (IMG model Gisele Bundchen is the world’s highest-paid model with $45 million in the bank). Most models can barely make ends meet. “You can’t just go somewhere and have a decent, steady, in-between salary,” Ainsworth says.
The behind-the-scenes world isn’t as its sometimes portrayed on TV and models aren’t typically famous.
“Its a process. Its fun but it’s not glamorous,” Ainsworth says. “It can be tough and not every girl winds up a Victoria’s Secret model. A lot of modeling is about timing. It depends on your agent. It depends on your look.”
If after this wave of reality sets in, a local model still wants to pursue a career, then Ainsworth insures that they don’t get blindsided by the more shady aspects of the business like being misrepresented by an agent or not being paid for a photo shoot.
JEA models also know how to ask for feedback on the days that they aren’t hired.
Modeling in Mississippi has its own mindset and pace, according to Ainsworth. Models are often in school or have other things going on and just pose when they have the time.
Most work can be found in local retail boutiques that need models for their website or social media platforms. Other models find jobs in magazines and with advertising agencies. Some do TV commercials or pose for photography classes.
“I think there’s a market for it here because I’ve run into a lot of people that want it so I think its just a matter of getting built up so you’re able to do it,” she says.
Ainsworth says the proximity to her family and the small fashion market in Jackson is what attracts her most about the area.
“I wouldn’t go to New York and start an agency. They already have tons,” she says.
Jamie’s favorite models
Heidi Klum: For her tenacity to model commercially for years before getting her first Victoria’s Secret job.
Karlie Kloss: For working with charities and giving back.
Coco Rocha: For giving wacky, beautiful faces not the more common “fierce look.”
A complete country girl
Jamie Ainsworth is just as comfortable in a deer stand as she is on a fashion runway.
The model and owner of JEA Model Management began hunting alongside her father as a toddler and says her first picture in a magazine was actually taken while she was wearing camouflage and holding up a shot turkey.
“I don’t go out as often as I used to,” Ainsworth says. “Its kind of like a father-daughter thing. I just like spending time with him and being outside. Its peaceful and fun.”
In addition to bass fishing and hunting turkey and dove, Ainsworth has killed five deer including two bucks on her family farm near Mississippi 49 in Magee.
“The first deer I killed was off my back porch one morning before school,” she says. At first Ainsworth says she was confused when the doe she was aiming at ran away at the gunshot. Then she realized she had actually hit the one that had been standing next to it.
“I went to school and told all the boys I killed one,” she says. “That was fun.”