Work Hard

Savalas’ Terry Costello on running the North East’s top modelling agency.

Terry shares how he took his business from a dream to a reality…

Written by High Life North
Published 23.07.2020

By Jenny Brownlees

Terry Costello had a vision for his business, to represent diverse modelling talent here in the North East and get them working with world-renowned clients and brands.

In just five years he has achieved his goal — taking Savalas from a start-up agency with a handful of models and expanding it to represent over fifty faces, (the talent roster is increasing by the day.) He aimed to put Newcastle on the map, and boy has he delivered. His models now work with internationally-acclaimed brands including ASOS, Fenwick, Topman, River Island, New Look, Rimmel and more, landing cosmetic campaigns and walking the runways at fashion weeks in New York, Paris, Milan and London. Savalas represented models have featured in editorials for prestigious publications Vogue Italia, Vogue Collections, Fantastic Man, Esquire and Vogue Paris, to name a mere few. Here, Terry chats to HLN about starting a business, the best part of his job and how he’s adapted to the challenges of an industry shut down by Covid-19.           

Tell us a little bit about you and how you started your business…

I’m Terry, I’m 24 years old and I run Savalas Models, a modelling agency based here in the North East. When I was in high school I was always eager to get into the world of work and earn my own money — at fourteen I typed up my CV and went around every cafe, restaurant, hairdressers and market stall after school, in the hope of landing myself my first ever Saturday job. Back then, the idea of running my own modelling agency was non-existent, but by the end of 2014, after completing an apprenticeship and working as an assistant in one of the top hairdressing salons in Newcastle at the time, I began to realise I had a real passion for the fashion and modelling industry.

It was a difficult time for me personally, as my Dad was battling a rare form of cancer which progressed rapidly, and he passed away around the same time I was setting up my business, which was so hard. I felt this was a huge wakeup call that if you really want to do something in life, you should do it right now. I began working in the production of local fashion shows, training models on the runway — this was my first experience in the industry. When I set up Savalas I didn’t even have an office, not until a few months in, so I would meet with the models I wanted to represent in local coffee shops. I had a strong vision for Savalas and I knew what I could create — luckily, in chatting to the models (many of whom I still represent to this day) I was able to share with them everything I wanted to achieve.  

So many modelling agencies are London-centric – you always wanted to put the North East on the map and showcase local talent from day one. Can you tell us more about this?

When I was considering setting up my business, I had noticed a huge gap in the market for an agency like Savalas. I know every business owner says this about their business, as it’s so important to believe in your idea, but I really did see the possibility. I was seeing so many potential models here in the early stages of my career, and I knew I wanted to put those faces on catwalks and major campaigns around the globe. I understood that the type of clients I wanted to book — large-scale, worldwide-renowned names and brands — were not on my doorstep, but I was determined to introduce direct bookings from Newcastle into the London market.

At the time this wasn’t really happening at all and it’s something I really pushed for. I began getting in touch with the clients I wanted to work with and told them, “Newcastle is only a three-hour train journey away.” Gradually, with a lot of hard work, I steadily grew my clientele in the capital, as well in Manchester, Scotland and overseas. I really do believe that Savalas has been influential in opening up brand’s eyes to the brilliant talent here, and the creative possibilities in the North East.

Starting any business is hard, what helped you personally?

You can say that again! It is incredibly challenging to say the least. I was only eighteen when I began the agency — if someone told me that about someone else I would think it was absolutely bonkers. I never used to like telling people about my age as their mouths would drop to the floor!

From the age of 18 to 24, it’s very much been head down and crack on for me, I’ve always worked extremely hard but had a grounded attitude. I definitely had a lot of drive and passion and was unwavering in my goals from day one — that’s how I’ve gotten to the stage where I’m at today, through relentless resilience and channelling all of those emotions into my work.

I did attend the Prince’s Trust young enterprise course, which helped me understand the basics of running a company, which was invaluable.

Apart from that, the North East has some brilliant creatives and I have found collaborating with local photographers, make-up artists, stylists, brands and hairstylists so helpful. I’ve had a lot of support from fellow creatives whilst growing my business, and I’m forever thankful for that.

We love how you have championed diversity from day one, it’s a big part of Savalas Model’s ethos. Can you tell us why this was important to you and the agency? 

Thank you for recognising this, it’s incredibly important for me to have a diverse range of models in all areas —ethnicity, sexuality, body shape and size, gender, height, religion, areas you were raised in and more. All of these factors fall under the umbrella of diversity in my mind, and I am and always have been dedicated to championing and representing people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

I think there have been improvements made in terms of diversity in media over the last five years, but we have all still got a lot of work to do as an industry. The fashion industry, in particular, is known for being wonderfully expressive and breaking boundaries — we need to channel this into making it fully inclusive. Our country is made up of all different ethnicities, we need to remember and acknowledge this at all times, ensuring equality when casting or booking talent for any working assignments in our industry.  

We love your branding! How did you decide on the name Savalas?

Thank you, my great grandad nicknamed me “Terry Savalas” which I found out from family members was an ode to the actor Telly Savalas from the 70s TV drama Kojak. The Savalas logo has a tile in the middle of the letter V, as a token of remembrance to my Dad, who was a tiler by trade. I envisioned the branding and just put pen to paper. I still have the notebook which has the original sketches in.

For those not in the know, can you tell us, in a nutshell, the type of tasks your job entails?

On an average day, I will be at my desk in the Baltic 39 offices, but as for many businesses this hasn’t been the case during Covid-19 — these past few months I have been working from home. But normally yes, I would be at the office and having meetings with the models I represent, organising their work for the upcoming months. I currently have over fifty models on my books, so you can imagine the level of organisation needed. I do everything from discussing booking models with clients, negotiating payment rates over email or telephone, organising travel (particularly if abroad) and co-ordinating portfolio updates with photographers and creatives, to maintaining and updating our website and social media channels. I also oversee all accounts, I’m chasing invoices, then I’m meeting or scouting new models — the list goes on! I do really enjoy a Monday afternoon, (which might sound surprising to some) as we hold an open casting between 1pm and 3pm at our HQ. This means aspiring models have the chance to come into the agency, either on their own or with a parent/guardian if they are under the age on 18. I love this as I really enjoy meeting new people.

Do you have a favourite part of the job?

Signing a new model to work with a new client definitely sits as one of my top highlights, but I think meeting such a wonderful variety of people and gaining friendships from my work has to be the best bit. 

Do you have pinch yourself moments with Savalas?

Seeing the models you represent on billboards is always a pinch-me moment. I was also so thrilled the first time I worked with ASOS, as I knew how influential it is for models to be associated with the brand. There have been so many brilliant moments though, I’m grateful for every opportunity! 

You have been so successful and expanded your business, moving offices to Baltic 39 and employing staff. Did you feel any nerves about the business growing?

I think people look at large offices and big teams and think wow, that business has made it— and it can seem quite intimidating to people starting out. But I’d say never underestimate small and start-up businesses, as they too can achieve great things. Relocating the agencies office into the Baltic 39 building was a natural move for me, I had been wanting a studio space there for some time. Employing staff definitely comes with its challenges as you need to trust someone to help take your company to the next stage of its legacy, after working alone for so long. However, if you get it right it is so rewarding.

What do you love about the North East, and basing your business here?

Newcastle is home for me, the pace of life is great. I think if I was based in London the pace of life means time would evaporate a lot quicker – it goes quick enough and I’m not looking to speed that up any time soon! 

How has Covid-19 affected your work, and how have you adapted in this strange and testing time?

We decided to work from home just before the full lockdown became in place, then as Covid-19 progressed our industry pretty much had to shut down. We usually regularly have test shoots for models portfolios, where the model works with a full team (hair, make-up, photographers and stylists) in a photography studio. This quickly changed to our models jumping on face time with the photographer and posing in the garden or in different rooms around their houses — that was a completely different experience for the models and everyone involved. We also did a series on our Instagram called Models At Home in this time, with videos so that followers could get to know our models a bit better. As of now, things are starting to reopen and I plan to get Savalas back where it was before lockdown took place. Though, I think things will have to be very different, with socially distanced photoshoots and safety measures in place.

Looking forward, how do you scout the next big modelling talent? And what do you hope for Savalas going forward?

I always keep my eye out for new faces, wherever I go. As many people are still furloughed or not in education at the moment, I may actually spot someone out and about I may not have previously seen. I’m actually planning some trips locally soon, in the hope I discover a new signing. I can pretty much scout anywhere, so in that sense I may find a Savalas New Face at any time! In terms of looking ahead, I always have set goals and ambitions for the agency. I want to continue discovering the best new faces, and growing the careers of the models I represent. I may switch things up and add new divisions to Savalas, that’s something I’m thinking about for the future.

Which North East haunt are you looking forward to getting back to, now things are reopening?

I love going to Vicolo’s in Newcastle, it’s my favourite little spot at any time of day — either for a cup of tea or a very large glass of vino. I can’t wait to visit again. 

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