How Michael Rotimi Manifested His New York Model and Talent Agency Offshore
Three years ago, while working as a mailman in Philadelphia, Michael Rotimi had an idea to move to New York and open a modeling agency. He now manages a team of three as the founder of Offshore, an NYC-based talent agency that represents 12 fashion models, along with stylists and photographers, in New York and Los Angeles. “I never had any formal experience at an agency,” Rotimi tells me as we kick it in his Brooklyn apartment, “so every time I would meet with a model, I just kept it 100%, like, ‘Look, I’m starting this agency. I don’t have any experience, but I have a vision. I see potential in you, so you’re going to need to trust me.’”
This summer, his vision led Offshore’s models Casandra and Enga to book global campaigns with beauty giants Sephora and Glossier, respectively. Scroll through the company’s Instagram page or newly launched website and you’re greeted by Cassie, Enga, and more radiant black and brown women who Rotimi says have become a mainstream representation of beauty in fashion today. “I feel like it was a trend in recent years to have people of color in campaigns, but now it’s not a trend anymore. It’s a staple,” he says. “It’s starting to click.”
Rotimi is upending the industry without even trying, just by virtue of being an outsider. And it’s not just consumers who are happy to see themselves represented in fashion — Rotimi tells me that many models he meets with are pleasantly surprised to learn he is, like them, a person of color. “You’re Michael? I’m so happy you’re Black,’’ he says as he imitates his meetings.
The story of Offshore is a master class in the power of manifesting your vision. Here, Rotimi shares how built his company, what motivates him as the son of Nigerian parents, and how he plans to infuse positivity and community into the modeling world.
AMIRAH MERCER: I want to get into the origin story of Offshore. Where were you a year or two before you started it?
MICHAEL ROTIMI: I was living in Philly. I was actually a mailman before I moved to New York. I always had the idea that I wanted to start an agency — it was going to be called Pop-Up Models. I was looking at how Instagram was working, and I was trying to use that to my advantage and use Instagram for business. But even before then, I always had a scouting eye. I would see someone walking and approach them and ask if they modeled and they did —
AMIRAH: So you were in touch with your intuition, in a sense. You started connecting the dots…
MICHAEL: And I always paid attention to people and faces and body language. I could just see if someone was a model or had the potential to be a model. It was just natural. I’ve also always had creative friends, so I helped my friends reach out to people and further their career. I was acting like a manager in my friend group, I was a mailman, and I was thinking, ‘Damn, this is not it.’ I was super depressed, too. It’s the most uncreative job — you have a route that you go, you’re in the fucking heat, you’re in the snow. I finally saved up enough money and moved in with my sister in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
AMIRAH: What did you plan to do when you got here to New York?
MICHAEL: I already had the plan to start the agency. Before I moved to New York, within the last couple of months, I got the LLC, I started the foundation, I got all the paperwork ready. I didn’t have any talent yet, but I had a business account.
AMIRAH: And you knew you wanted to make it a full talent agency — not just models?
MICHAEL: When I first started, it was just models. When I was in Philly as a mailman, I was doing research on the industry, really just trying to learn as much as I could online. There’s this site called models.com. I went on there and looked at the casting directors, production companies, everybody in the industry. I emailed a lot of people. I went through that list — it maybe took me a week — and emailed almost 400 people, and 25% of them got back to me like, ‘Okay, we’ll keep you in the loop.’
AMIRAH: Did you have any clients at this point?
MICHAEL: I didn’t, but I already had the name, I had the vision, so it was easy for me to say, ‘This is what I’m doing. Let me know if you have anything coming up.’ Shortly after, when I went to New York, I had my eye on these two models, so I met with them and signed them. I never had any formal experience at an agency, so every time I would meet with a model, I just kept it 100%, like, ‘Look, I’m starting this agency. I don’t have any experience, but I have a vision. I see potential in you, so you’re going to need to trust me.’
Most of the models I worked with, they’d never modeled before. They had aspirations to model, but they were either too short or they didn’t fit what the industry wanted. So I was like, ‘I see potential in you, but I’m not guaranteeing anything.’ I never guarantee anything. To this day, when I meet with people, I tell them what I did and who I worked with, but I never guarantee anybody anything, just because I don’t like disappointing people. I’d rather exceed expectations.
AMIRAH: I’m so impressed with the growth of Offshore, because it’s not like you were selling a product — you were selling a vision. Do you think it’s your confidence in that vision that allowed you to sign people with no ‘experience’?
MICHAEL: Right, ’cause even when I met with the first two models, I didn’t have Instagram content. I think it was more so me being really genuine and not a creep or looking shady or anything. I was just 100% honest and vulnerable. A lot of people don’t like being vulnerable, especially in an industry they want to excel in, but I think my vulnerability really allowed people to trust me.
AMIRAH: Did your vision for Offshore include trying to course-correct the lack of representation in the fashion industry?
MICHAEL: Honestly, I’m not really embedded in the fashion industry. I don’t keep up with a lot of it. I think naturally I had an agenda, for sure, to shake things up in the industry, not necessarily to diversify it. I think I’m doing that naturally, but it wasn’t the first agenda. It was just more so, like, I’m tired of seeing these typical models with no personality. Also, I just really thought I had good taste in people. I’m big on personality and getting to know people, so I really just wanted to push that with Offshore.
It low-key started as a project, because I’m an entrepreneur at heart. There’s a bunch of stuff I started in the past that didn’t work, or life just got in the way. I had a clothing brand in college. I had this platform I started, it was called ‘You’re Fucking Beautiful,’ and it was, like, basically highlighting women. I think me having four sisters, the way I was raised, I just gravitate toward women and try to give them a platform. It was kind of going to be like Into the Gloss, a Refinery29 thing with content and highlighting women. That lasted for two or three months, and then life just got in the way.
AMIRAH: Is there a trend now toward hiring women of color?
MICHAEL: I feel like it was a trend in recent years to have people of color in campaigns, but now it’s not a trend anymore. It’s a staple, because [companies] understand you have to have inclusivity. It’s not like affirmative action. You have to have people of color on your roster or working for the company. It’s starting to click. They’re just seeing more of it, and a lot of them are just slow or scared. They’re behind.
AMIRAH: You talked about how the internet moves your product for you. How important is Instagram for your business?
MICHAEL: Right now it’s very important. It’s the base of Offshore. I don’t have a website. I had a website when I first started, but it wasn’t really what I envisioned, so I took it down. For the past two and a half years, I haven’t had a website, so people were finding me through Instagram and maybe word of mouth.
You know how on Instagram you can find anybody in any position? So I would do my research — I would find a production company, like them or follow, just anyone I could potentially work with, but I was really doing that heavy so people could see me. And that really helped. I do that to this day: Sometimes, on a Sunday, I’ll like some people that are at the top of a company. They’ll either follow back or like some stuff or reach out later on in an email. I feel like reaching out is easier to do. Find people, rather than posting every day.
AMIRAH: I feel like you’ve been posting more lately. It seems like the more models you sign, the more content you have.
MICHAEL: Yeah, and I don’t want my Instagram to be all work. All these casting directors that are in the industry, when I look at them, I’m just like, ‘I’m not like them.’ The people in this industry, I’m totally different than them. I’ve heard stories about casting directors being creepy and just the whole modeling industry being —
MICHAEL: Yeah, it’s just weird. You know, me coming from north Philly, from inner city, when I hear this, I just can’t adapt to it. I’ve been working in the industry for, like, two or three years — it still weirds me out.
AMIRAH: You’re not supposed to adapt to it. Old industry practices like that, it’s going to take outsiders coming in and getting it done without having to do the traditional processes that people are so used to. I feel like people probably get complacent, like, ‘Oh, this is just what you have to do to be a model,’ and it’s like nah, you don’t.
MICHAEL: It’s crazy, a week ago I had a meeting with a potential model, a male model, and he’s from the inner city, too. He doesn’t know much about the fashion industry, but he had a meeting with an agency and it was some shady stuff going on. Some agencies have model houses, where they house models that are from international places, and that’s how agencies make their money — off of real estate, because they charge a lot of models money to stay in these houses. The dude said they set up a meeting at the model house, and it was real weird. They were in a waiting room and it was dim and they were sending people to the back. He asked his friend what’s going on and his friend just put his head down. So he just got out of there.
AMIRAH: Oh, hell no. That’s scary.
MICHAEL: It’s scary as fuck. I don’t even want to be involved in that side of it. The industry is weird.
AMIRAH: How does being first-generation Nigerian motivate you?
MICHAEL: My parents came here when they were in their early twenties so we could have a better life. Growing up, my parents always said, ‘Be a doctor, be a lawyer, an engineer,’ something that makes a lot of money. They’re older and they come from that traditional background. But I just wasn’t that academic-type person. I was a creative. I literally only went to [college] because of my parents. In my decision [to open Offshore], I really didn’t want to disappoint my parents. I want to show them that there’s money in being a creative, there’s money in these non-traditional things. I’m not a doctor, but I can still send you money to take care of things and take care of myself and eat.
AMIRAH: When was the last time you defined freedom for yourself?
MICHAEL: It’s funny because it was recently, actually. Like, right now, I feel free. I feel liberated. My main goal growing up, I just didn’t want to work for anyone. Or not even the fact of working for someone, I just didn’t want to ever ask another person if I can get time off to do this or travel. I just hated the idea of asking permission to live life. Waking up every day and controlling my own schedule, I feel like I’ve reached what I’ve always wanted: liberation.