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'People are ready for this': Alta. modelling agency only reps disabled, visibly different talent

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An Edmonton couple has created a modelling agency that exclusively represents disabled and visibly different talent.

Katie MacMillan and Austin Allanach were inspired to create Kello Inclusive after their daughter Kelty’s experiences as a model.

Kelty has Cerebral Palsy. Her mother said she was inspired to send photos of Kelty to a talent agency after seeing a girl in a magazine with a pediatric mobility aid.

“I remember thinking how rare it was to see mobility aids in, anywhere really. Especially in a magazine,” she told CTV News Edmonton.

“I kind of filed it away until I had some time like we all did during COVID, and decided to, on a whim, send her images into a modelling agency that was based in Calgary.”

Kelty worked with the agency for two years, but her parents felt it wasn’t a good fit for a person with a disability.

Kelty Allanach (Credit: Kello Inclusive)

“There were some great experiences, but we also kinda learned that a lot of that industry didn’t really know what to do with disability.”

The couple learned of an agency overseas that represents persons with disabilities, but were disappointed to learn there was no such agency in Canada.

“Then Austin, who is the entrepreneurial spirit of the two of us said, ‘Well, let's just start one.’”

Kelty Allanach on a runway in Toronto. (Credit: Katie MacMillan)

Six months ago, Kello Inclusive was born.

MacMillian says the reaction has been swift and encouraging.

“In a word, amazing,” she said.

“It speaks to the fact that people are ready for this.”

She said they have already signed over 50 models from across the country, and they’re working with a number of brands, from local, small businesses in Edmonton, to national chains.

“The fact that we’ve moved as quickly as we have, and made as many connections as we have, has been the most exciting part,” she said.

'It's just expanded these incredible possibilities'

Alexis Hillyard is one of those models.

The 40-year-old mom was born without her left hand.

“I am a congenital amputee, which means I was born without, for me in my case, my left hand. The doctors aren’t really sure why or how,” she said.

“It’s pretty rare. You don’t run into people on the street who have the same disability as this. So it’s pretty wonderful to see anybody who is missing a limb, but particularly seeing more people online and in photoshoots and media that represent this body.”

Hillyard has been creating content online for the last six-and-a-half years, but she says having the support of an agency behind her has been a game changer.

“Having Kello step in and be my agent and act on my behalf, it’s just expanded these incredible possibilities for myself.”

“They’ve worked with, already, Superstore, getting me a really awesome brand deal with them, and we’re talking to other companies.”

She said Kello is able to advocate for disabled models in a way other agencies might not think to.

Alexis Hillyard (Credit: Kello Inclusive)

“Knowing that there are some important factors you have to consider when you’re doing a brand deal or a modelling gig, is your space wheelchair accessible, for example?”

“As they are going out into the world and representing disabled talent, they’re also going to be in a way, teaching companies and brands how to be able to expand their practices to include more disabled talent, which is so important.”

Hillyard has connected with a number of families as a result of her disability. She says for many of the children she meets, it’s the first time they’ve met someone else like themselves.

“Whenever I meet these kids online or in person, it’s like this huge weight is lifted off for both of us, because we can just breathe. We just kind of get each other.”

She’s hoping having more models with disabilities in major campaigns will help people with disabilities feel seen and accepted.

“You just feel a bit more seen in yourself. I think that’s what Kello is doing, and it’s really, really awesome.” 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nahreman Issa.

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