We had a chance to speak with Khandiz Joni, artist and co-founder of the first agency that exclusively represents conscious hair and make-up artists and fashion, food and prop stylists. Few years back she opened up Novel Beings, an agency passionate about ethics, sustainability and the industry’s impact on the environment. For many production companies and brands it might seem like a lot of fuss to make their shoots more eco-friendly and ethical, but as Novel Beings shows us – it’s totally doable! Every production team can start little by little making an effort to preserve nature. Read the story behind the Novel Beings agency below.
Production Paradise: How did you come up with the idea to start Novel Beings?
Khandiz: I had a niche agency in Cape Town, SA – we ONLY represented up-and-coming and assistant hair and makeup artists. When I unintentionally moved to the UK in 2012, I was finding it hard to find work and make connections so I thought I might try restart Mukup Creative here in London, but with not nearly enough work for myself (I was and still am, a working hair and makeup artist) and an extremely limited network, it seemed an impossible idea. I decided to put the idea on the back burner and rather focus on my new personal USP – specialising in clean beauty. So I began cleaning up my own kit, and systematically aligning my work life with my values from my life. During this time, I was noticing more and more sustainable fashion brands popping up and found it odd that there wasn’t an agency representing artists who catered to this niche.
In a chance meeting in early 2014, I met Alice Wilby – a “sustainable stylist” – on a shoot. We had the usual set chat; “how long have you been doing this?” “Do you have an agent?” etc. As it turns out Alice didn’t have an agent because being someone who practices their profession with a value system was not something the industry catered for, or quite frankly cared about at the time. I literally asked her there and then if she wanted to start an agency with me. She politely suggested we meet up soon to chat about it further … which we did. At the time she wasn’t ready to actually start the agency with me, so I went off and did it anyway. I wanted a name that said who we were, hence Novel Beings. Fortunately Alice agreed to be represented by the agency from day dot and acted as my bounce board from day one. Six months in, she joined me in being the voice of the agency and we have been partners ever since.
Production Paradise: Could you tell us more about the talents that you represent at Novel Beings?
Khandiz: We have 11 artists on our roster. From hair and makeup to food stylists to influencers. Most of our creatives are multidisciplinary. While we categorise our artists under the usual boxes (to make it easier for clients to find the kind of artist they are looking for) most of our artists are skilled in multiple areas.
What sets us apart from other agencies is that our selection process is not limited to a current client list or aesthetic only. How (their personal ethics and values) the artist practices is equally as important. In short, they need to be active, vocal and most importantly knowledgable about the values they are touting.
Our makeup artists use natural, organic and ethically produced and sourced products. Our stylists incorporate a best practice approach to sourcing looks to fit the brief. (i.e. using items from sustainable fashion brands, vintage, second hand or hired clothing where ever possible.) Our food stylists limit the use of toxic ingredients on the food and limit food waste wherever possible.
Our artists practice their approaches irrespective of who the client is.
Production Paradise: Can you share some of the biggest challenges you face when running an agency with such a unique focus?
Khandiz: Misconceptions: When clients/agencies hear what we do, they assume that we are more expensive and that we only work for sustainable brands/companies. At the end of the day, we all still need to eat and pay the bills, so while we certainly hope that in the future we can work exclusively with brands/companies that are aligned to our values, for now, we consider each job on a case by case basis. We work with small/ ethical brands as well as companies that are trying their best to improve their practices. Transparency for us is key. We aren’t about shaming companies that aren’t on track – we are about supporting and promoting brands and business that are making an effort.
We do, however, have to walk away from certain jobs if they don’t fit into our value system – for instance our makeup artists wouldn’t work for a cosmetic brand that doesn’t reflect the use of non-toxic ingredients or lack of transparency.
Time! We are acutely aware of how quickly things move in the advertising and fashion world, but providing us with what ever spare time there is, we can provide a far more sustainable offering to our clients.
At the end of the day, it still comes down to “who you know.” It seems to be harder and harder to get a face-to-face meeting with producers (sure, I know how busy things are, everyone hustling constantly) but at the end of the day, this industry is built on connections – and personable connections are just as important as how “creative” someone is. That’s why I find that the agency gets more work when myself, Alice or any of our other artists are on set, because once people can see what we do, they realise it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
Production Paradise: What do you consider to be Novel Beings’ biggest professional achievement?
Khandiz: While we have done some pretty amazing campaigns for some awesome organisations, I would have to say that our biggest achievement is simply starting the first agency of it’s kind in the world! It’s hard being a “pioneer” – but when things started to work out as you had planned, it’s an incredibly rewarding feeling.
Production Paradise: How does Novel Beings limit their impact on the earth?
Khandiz: We make all our business decisions based on how they will impact the environment. We have consciously chosen not to have an office, but rather work remotely. Of course this has a bearing on business costs, but more importantly, because of the nature of the business, we don’t need a fancy office filled with more “stuff”. We have chosen the business that provide services that use renewable energy. Our artists use public transport whenever and wherever feasible. We have recycling and printing policies in place. We use a bank that has strict ethical policies. It’s not rocket science… we are just conscious about our impact on the planet.
Production Paradise: Do you have any tips & tricks on how to easily reduce waste and to make shoots more green and less wasteful?
- Switch your office over to green energy!
- Set up systems that are easy for people to follow. It might mean a little more work to start, but once those systems are in place, it becomes easier and second nature for crew to follow. Call crew out on being lazy when it comes to recycling (of course this can only be done if you have easy systems set up). Have permanent markers on the table next to the water bottles (of course what we really suggest is that crew are asked to bring their own water bottles to set and production provides a water cooler) with a sign saying ”write your name on your bottle!”
- Be practical! When it comes to craft and catering – consider the location you are shooting in. If you are in a water-restricted country (Cape Town, SA is a perfect example of this) rather than having washable cutlery and crockery, provide biodegradable ones AND make sure you have bins (bag liners) that are also biodegradable. If something is biodegradable and you throw it in the general trash – it too just becomes landfill! If you’re not in a country that has water restrictions – rent reusable cutlery and crockery. Here in London, there are services that will come collect your rubbish after the shoot and recycle it properly.
- Ask the glam department to switch to consumables that are biodegradable! Every wet wipe and makeup wipe goes to landfill!
- Don’t hand out printed call sheets. Let’s face it – most people don’t read the call sheet anyway! Have one printed out and stuck up on set for anyone who want’s to know anything or can’t read the small font on their phones.
- The more “options” you provide a client with, the longer it takes them to choose. And let’s face it… they usually go for their first choice at the end of the day anyway… provide less options of things.
- If you give gift bags to your clients and H.O.D’s – fill them with locally sourced items and ethically and sustainably sourced products. Cork, bamboo, recycled plastic are all great materials – and oh, so on trend. (If you need a customised goodie bag, you can always get in touch with us, it’s one of our lesser known services.)
- If you/your clients are travelling by air to a destination – just ASK them if they would consider flying economy and explain that flying economy limits their CO2 emissions. If that’s not an option, pay the CO2 donation fee.
- Don’t be afraid to call people out! You don’t have to be rude but you do need to say something. Be the change.
At the end of the day, if we don’t look after our resources, there will be no beautiful locations left to shoot at. It makes perfect business sense to clean up your shoot.
We were happy to have had a chance to speak to Khandiz and appreciate her tips for more sustainable and ethical photo and film productions. We hope the Novel Beings story inspires more companies to follow suit!