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Cleveland native, NYC based model creates talent agency to combat lack of diversity

Model, actress Ariona Beninato is seeing the possible in the fashion industry with the creation of her own agency.

CLEVELAND — Lights, Camera, Action!

From photo shoots, to commercials and auditions, the life of a model is full of hustle and bustle.

However in today's society, it takes much more than a pretty face to be a model.

One model and Cleveland native is proving just that. 24-year-old Ariona Beninato started her own talent agency, Collective Casting, in 2017.

Based out of Cleveland, Collective Casting aims to "expand the diverse representation for models, artists, and talent."

She got the idea to start her own business after consistently being told by agencies that she needed to conform to their beauty standards or that they already had a model with a similar image.

"I just saw a lack of representation amongst talent of color [in the industry], so I decided instead of having to wait for our acceptance into an agency, I created my own," said Beninato.

"I help to connect models and talent of color to opportunity and I give a platform for artists to just pursue what they love in modeling and fashion."

Beninato first began her journey with fashion and modeling as a student at Kent State University, but it wasn’t until she landed an audition with America’s Next Top model: a TV show made famous by model turned mogul, Tyra Banks, that she decided to pursue modeling full time.

While her accomplishments now may be impressive, Beninato says her journey wasn’t always glamorous.

Raised by a single mother in Cleveland, Beninato recalls being depressed and doubting herself throughout her childhood.

"I never thought ever, when I was younger, that I was even cute. I had very deep insecurity issues. I would use sports and school as my outlet, so I was always like a tomboy," said Beninato.

As years passed and Beninato grew to find herself, she began using meditation and affirmations to become a better and more positive version of herself.

One day, unhappy with her current situation, she decided to make a change.

''So, I'm like, 'You know what?' I'm going to choose to live my dream life and nothing is going to stop me. Not a relationship, not money, not anything, nothing. not any circumstance."

And with that mindset, Beninato left Kent State, applied to her dream school, Parsons School of Design in New York City, and left for the Big Apple in July of 2015.

In a new city full of opportunity, she thought for sure she would instantly excel.

To her surprise, things didn't go at all as she'd planned.

“There were some agencies I wouldn't even be allowed to sit down on the couches. The receptionist would get out of her chair and be like, 'No. We don't represent girls that look like you,' said Beninato.

However, that wouldn't be the last of criticism thrown at Beninato; she began to realize that many agencies wanted her to conform--something she was absolutely unwilling to do.

"I'm anti-conformity. I'm gonna rock my natural hair, I'm going to eat whatever I want to eat, and I'm going to be in love with myself. And there isn't anything that anyone can tell me that's going to defer that; and I'm going to be a model," Beninato says with confidence.

That conclusion led Beninato to take control of her own career.

Since that moment of taking ownership, Beninato has worked with popular brands such as DevaCurl, Makeup Forever, Teen Vogue, Allure and Glamour magazines and many others. She has been cast in Empire, She's Gotta Have It, The Get Down and others.

Despite having reached great success, Beninato still feels a responsibility to give back to the community that raised her in Northeast Ohio.

She is able to reach the community through her agency and several talent workshops that she hosts throughout the year.

Beninato even finds time to visit her alma mater, Nordonia High School, to speak with students about self confidence and pursuing their dreams.

"I totally believe in giving back to the community, that's what I live for. I feel like my purpose here is to serve," said Beninato.

She went on to say, "If my words can help out one person, and inspire one person, I have done my duty."

When models from Collective Casting were asked what they they thought of Ariona as a person, there was nothing but positive feedback and compliments.

Jayla Sweet, a model that has been with the agency for a little over a year said, "Ariona is the epitome of grace, selflessness, and poise. Her light shines from within and warms everyone around her. She took something so controversial which is modeling/ acting and gave it a new feel. She never stops at the bar that is set. She raises it more."

She went on to say, "Ariona is and will be someone that many girls can look up to graciously."

Additionally, one of Collective's veteran models, D'Asia Simone, had similar remarks.

"Ariona is like a Phoenix bird. Aside from her big curly hair that represents the fiery wings of the bird, she is the epitome of strength, wisdom, and manifestation. Anything she speaks into the universe, she makes sure it comes true."

She continued, "She is one of the most caring, dedicated, self sufficient, and honest people I know, and I enjoy having her as my manager/agent/friend."

Both women credit the agency with providing them with the confidence and tools to truly be themselves, just better and more polished versions.

For more information on Beninato's agency, Collective Casting, click here or you can check her out on social media by clicking here.

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