Hired Hands is one of the UK’s leading Modelling Agencies, specialising in body parts. Founded in the 90s by Steve and Judi Barker, their daughter Chloe now runs the bookings side of the company alongside her fiancée Thomas. Together they’ve supplied body parts to some of the world’s biggest tech, ecommerce and beauty brands.
As the name suggests, their main area of expertise is hands, but they cover other body parts too: lips, eyes, feet, legs…even bums! (More on that later.)
Eager to discover what it takes to be a hand model and find out more about the business, we journeyed up to the first floor to meet with Chloe and Thomas in their bay. But not before filing our nails and slapping on a healthy dose of hand cream…
…You never know.
Creative Works: Hey Chloe and Thomas – nice bay. So before we find out a bit more about Hired Hands, what does it take to be considered hand model material?
Chloe: Well there is a criteria and there are certain things that we look for in each and every model. It also depends on what category the model falls into; we’ve got young hands, old hands, male and female – they all have a different niche.
Thomas: For jewellery shoots you’d generally expect a female hand to be more ‘elegant’. For foodie shoots, it’s the opposite – hands need to have a more natural “wholesome” vibe.
Creative Works: [Looks down at stubby, bitten nails] Damn.
Chloe: Our ability to identify a great hand model is an art we’ve perfected over years of practice, so we don’t want to give too much away! Put it this way, we can look at a photo and be able to tell you straight away if the hand is any good or not.
When it comes to feet, if people have nice feet they tend to have nice legs, generally speaking. Many of the models on our books who do “foot work” are also on our leg pages.
We often get requirements for small feet because in the UK the most popular shoe sample size is 4. They want a fashion model with great feet and great legs but want her to have size 4 feet, which can pose a bit of a problem as you can imagine!
Creative Works: Have you noticed any changes or emerging trends in the industry?
Thomas: Well it used to be that the regular gig for a hand model would involve replacing the hand of a film star or famous fashion model, and for this they would often need the best hand in the business. A hand Supermodel if you will, with perfect hands. This is still a huge part of the business for us but nowadays our books do also feature people who are high end “general models” and have nice hands, as there is a need to this also.
“A hand needs to be so good that you don’t notice it, and then your product is king in the shot.”
Chloe: It’s almost like there are two different categories of work streams – it just depends on what’s being shot. For really complex shoots or high end fashion work, clients will usually want a hand supermodel, whereas for a low end editorial or online content clients will often prefer a general model whose hands are okay. It’s a spectrum and every job is different.
Creativeworks: You specialise in hands, obviously, but what other body parts do you represent?
Chloe: Our main offering is Hands, but we also represent Feet, Lip, Eye and Leg models and session Manicurists. These are areas of the business we are currently growing.
Thomas: Yes, when it comes to parts modelling it’s anything really, depending on the brief. We specialise in ‘unrecognisable modelling’ – which is our forté as market leaders.
As soon as you bring the face in you’re in a completely different sphere.
Creative Works: What’s the weirdest brief you’ve had from a client?
Chloe: Ooh, I was telling this story the other day, actually. An agency who uses us quite a lot was making a film for a corporate client of theirs. In the film the CEO and CD of the company were doing a bit of acting – I think it was a 50 years celebration or something.
At the end of the film the two guys go off and get matching bum tattoos. Now, the “actors” were very happy for the scene to be in the film because they thought it was hilarious, but they didn’t want to use their own bums. Obviously!
We supplied butt doubles for both of them.
Creative Works: How on earth did you go about selecting the right bums for the job?!
Chloe: We were given headshots of the two of them by the production company. Obviously it’s a bit hard to match a bum from a head. Also, the pictures were definitely taken in the 80s and you could tell they were going to be a bit older!
We did actually find butts that we thought would be perfect based on the age we thought they’d be in real life, however they ended up opting for ones that were similar in skin tone but much younger and fitter. You can’t blame them really.
Thomas: Solving challenges like that is probably one of the more creative parts of our business. Though one could say negotiating rates is an art form in itself.
Creative Works: Hired Hands is in its twenties now. How did the business start?
Chloe: The business was set up in 1991 by my parents – it’s always been a family business.
They both started out doing completely different things. My mum was working in the Theatre Business at the time and my dad was working in advertising as a copywriter. He was on set shooting one of his commercials and somebody they were shooting had really horrible hands that didn’t look good, particularly in close-up.
I think just sparked a little bit of a lightbulb moment that inspired him to set the business up. My mum jumped on board a few years later and really helped him grow it.
“You name the brand, we’ve probably supplied the hand!”
Thomas: The growth of tech and apps means there’s greater demand for hands in day-to-day-creative now. If you picture a typical app tube ad, it’ll probably feature a hand – that’s our bread and butter.
Chloe: A hand needs to be so good that you don’t notice it, and then your product is king in the shot. The minute you shoot someone with an ugly hand or chipped nails, that’s the only thing you see in the picture. Or you have to spend hours retouching, which can be really time consuming and expensive.
Creative Works: Which big brands have you worked with? If you’re allowed to say…
Chloe: We work for a lot of tech brands that we can’t name, but you can probably guess! Lots of beauty brands, food brands and the big Editorials too.
Thomas: You name the brand, we’ve probably supplied the hand!
Creative Works: So how did you guys get into the business?
Chloe: I started my career working in post-production. As Head of Post at a major Advertising firm and as a Creative Editor, so my day job was about making films and shooting photography. A lot of what I did in advertising was focused on e-commerce, so there’s a huge crossover there with what I do now.
We often have to bear film techniques in mind when picking models and giving them briefs for things. For example, we have lots of relationships with nail varnish brands. A shoot for them may require a model to have grey nail varnish painted on at a salon the night before, because in post production they can change the colour of that nail from grey to whatever they want. This enables them to shoot with the model once rather than having to have a manicurist on set to change the colour every five minutes.
So my background helps me with things like that because I can explain how it fits in with the pipeline to our models and better advise our clients.
Thomas: I was previously working in media and digital marketing, SEO and website optimisation – that sort of thing. Basically helping businesses globally scale their content so to appear at the top of search engine results Worldwide. I did that for about a decade, working for a couple of boutique agencies as well as Zenith Media who are one of the four main media agencies for the Publicis Groupe.
So after years of working for a massive media organisation and being a small cog in a massive machine, the idea of stripping that back while still being able to have a similar lifestyle in London seemed really attractive.
We live just down the road from Creative Works and moved to Walthamstow in 2017. It’s a lovely area and we’ll probably be here for a few years to come. It’s just us for the moment, but we plan to grow the business in time. Though the only person I have to report to at the moment is Chloe…and she is hard to please!
Chloe: The zero commute to work is a huge factor for us because both of us have worked in really high pressure, high powered jobs. We’re still doing that, but can walk to work without any of the stress that comes with commuting and be home within 20 minutes at the end of the day.
Creative Works has enabled us to have a little bit of a lifestyle change as well as taking on a new exciting project. We can devote more time to work without feeling like it’s a drain!