"In modelling, there is no point in trying to prove you have a brain, so why even bother?" So said Danish supermodel Helena Christensen. Well, Anna Gray's shrewd student initiative has proved her wrong.
The 24-year-old Gray, who took a postgraduate degree in management studies at Nottingham University Business School, has fashioned an innovative business model that is going from strength to strength. And her company, Model Students, is providing a chink of light in the economic gloom.
The jobless total for 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK hit a record 1.02 million during the final quarter of 2011, and female unemployment is at its highest level for 23 years. But Gray's new style of agency, which was originally part of her entrepreneurship module, is impressively bucking this gloomy trend.
"When I was in my final year at Nottingham University, studying business management, I knew I wanted to set up my own company," says Gray. "I had worked as a model during my time at university, so it seemed a logical step as it was the industry that I had experience in."
Doncaster-born Gray has been signed to numerous modelling and promotions agencies since she was 18. Her experience includes catwalk, photographic and exhibition work, and she has worked on many promotional campaigns, for the likes of Coca-Cola Zero, TK Maxx and Dare to Wear. "As a model, I often felt frustrated that my agents did not find me regular paid work," Gray says. "Now I realise how hard that task is and how fickle the industry can be."
The Government claims that it has launched initiatives to help 350,000 young people back into work. But its ingenious and entrepreneurial postgraduate schemes such as Gray's that appear to be the most credible way of generating work and earnings for young people.
Professor Simon Mosey, head of the Institute for Enterprise and Innovation at Nottingham University Business School, says: "During tough times, the need for short-term fire-fighting means that thinking differently and identifying new opportunities are least likely to happen. Yet it is in these times that innovative thinking is more needed."
Although they aren't raking in the big bucks like Kate Moss and Lily Cole, who became a student after being a model, Gray's models are doing better than their fellow working students. There are now more than 50 male and female models on Gray's books and they can earn £100 a day plus expenses. It's a far more attractive proposition than the options traditionally open to students, such as serving stale chips or pints of beer to their drunken fellows, or sorting post and stacking shelves in a windowless warehouse.
The work is also considerably less grubby and perilous than the flourishing lap-dancing trade, which has become the job of choice for many students. Last year, one lap-dancing chain in London claimed that 18 per cent of their dancers were students.
Modelling is a far more glamorous proposition, and Gray's models have notched up catwalk assignments with Ted Baker, Debenhams and Bench, video production work for Boots, music videos for Cubit Recordings and adverts for Dynomite Productions. It's not surprising, then, that Gray is receiving so many applications to join her particular agency.
"We receive on average three applications a day from young people wanting to model," says Gray. "But the amount of work we can find is limited, so we choose not to take on too many models as we feel it is important to find work for the models we do have."
A far cry from the gauche, grungy or downright grumpy stereotype, the students on Gray's books come across as savvy and confident young adults. "Our models are bright, intelligent and great communicators," Gray enthuses. "We have been able to provide a more personal service for our clients and our models have proved to be reliable, hard-working and able to adapt to new and challenging assignments."
It's all the sort of thing that Tyra Banks would approve of on America's Top Model. As she once said: "Work hard, perfect your poses, and life will seem like a day at the beach." It certainly beats serving stale chips.
For more on Model Students, visit www.modelstudents.co.uk/about and to learn more of Nottingham University Business School visit www.nottingham.ac.uk/business or call 0115 846 6602