Deiwght Peters: ‘Changing lives and expanding horizons’

Without Limit

with Rachael Barrett

Sunday, April 23, 2017    

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This interview series profiles businesspople from all industries, provided they have some significant reach that affects the region in their industry. Yet when I let slip to a few confidants that I was going to sit with Deiwght Peters, founder and CEO of Saint International, I could detect a quick flash of bemusement in their eyes.

When we think of business in Jamaica, manufacturing, food, and finance still dominate. When we consider the creative industries, hospitality, media and music come to mind, while the fashion industry is usually far off the list. Yet one man has been steadily driving up the profile of fashion models from the Caribbean over the last decade. Deiwght Peters has risen to assume the mantle of premier Caribbean model agent, as his Saint International agency represents the largest cohort of successful working fashion models today.

The global fashion industry is documented as a US$3-trillion industry representing two per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. The luxury market - the sector within which most Saint International models showcase their talent - captures about a third of the global market share. Notably in economic giant the USA, in 2016 the apparel industry was responsible for US$82 billion of all overseas consumer product imports, contributing a full 15 per cent to the total trade deficit.

So how does Saint International fit in?

Somehow in the midst of this lucrative global industry — one of the few that offer quick access to the coveted USA marketplace, Peters has developed what he calls ‘the formula’, and manages to turn into highly bankable stars some of the faces he spots in schoolyards, from the hundreds of photos sent to his office, or, as his most recent sensation Tevin Steele can recall, from a coconut vending lean-to on the side of the road.

Girls still account for most of the modelling industry compared to boys, and typically model for a mere three seasons. Every new runway show is said to feature about 70 per cent new faces. Many of these models are teenagers leaving home for the first time, often unaccompanied by family, and are emotionally unprepared for the pressures of the industry, so they tend to burn out very quickly.

Runway is the most visible booking a model can get, but the trick is to leverage that prime introduction to the fashion elite into ad campaigns and endorsement deals.

Forbes’ 2016 tally of the world’s highest paid models confirms their top 20 as earning approximately US$154 million among themselves, with the lion’s share of income attributed to fragrance, beauty, and apparel advertising campaigns.

Deiwght’s models boast a strong presence on the runway, but the media also shows that some of the most sought after campaigns with high-profile design houses such as Miu Miu, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Tommy Hilfiger — just to name a few — follow a turn on the catwalk.

Of the top 20 models on the Saint roster signed with international partners, his present top-of-the-class girl, Tami Williams, is ranked among the top 50 of all working models worldwide.

Another 2016 industry report also confirmed that on fashion runways across New York, London, Paris and Milan, more than 75 per cent of models cast were white. Yet of that 25 per cent, Peters’ girls and boys featured in approximately one third of the fashion shows staged per season. Notably, Puerto Rican supermodel Joan Smalls is the only girl of colour on the

Forbes list that features no men.

To dare to break through fashion’s controversial glass ceiling that sees few women of colour breach industry barricades is one thing. To successfully leverage each breakthrough moment into a long-term career is another. Over lunch at his favourite restaurant in town — Tamarind (believe it or not, this sartorial savant’s favourite cuisine is Indian!) — Peters dishes on his road to becoming the leading force in fashion regionally, his journey from Clarendon to the catwalk, and what’s next for Saint International.

“My family is from Clarendon, and at Glenmuir High School I developed the art of being an effective public speaker. I have been involved in competitive public speaking for almost 10 years from high school straight through university where I represented UWI twice at the intercampus debates. My family was a middle-class family. Mom [Sonia Peters] was a full-time mom while dad was a mechanic at JAMALCO for many years until he started his own business — Kenep Heavy Equipment Company. That business funded me completely through university, and I am grateful that I wanted for nothing.”

Landing at Workers’ Bank after graduation, fashion was nowhere near consideration for young Peters, although he developed a flair for the field.

“Fashion was accidental. I never once thought that my career would be in model management. I worked solidly in banking in various capacities — personal financial planner, money market trader, marketing. I saw my life firmly in corporate Jamaica , but while at the bank I gained some experience in organising cultural events and producing fashion and beauty shows including Jamaica Festival Queen, Miss Jamaica Universe and the first James Bond Film Festival to name a few. It was Rodney Harris of SLAMM Models in Atlanta who gave me initial insight when we met at a Model and Talent Convention in Atlanta. He taught me about imaging a model and he made those introductory calls that opened several agency doors in New York.”

His side business in production had led young Peters to manage a talented singing quartet, Piano. He firmly believed they could be Jamaica’s answer to Boyz II Men and embraced the management role with gusto. Although the group did not last, the experience was certainly the tipping point for Peters, who found his drive to source local talent to compete in the international marketplace.

“I thought the world wanted to see authentic Jamaican beauty. While I was at the international conventions I met an agent from Johannesburg and we started a working relationship. From the outset, I brought top stylist Tyron Mayes — who just worked on US fashion television hit America’s Next Top Model with Tyra Banks — to Jamaica to help image the models. We brought in top photographers, and armed with these images I jumped on a plane and visited agencies across North America and Europe and was successful in placing 17 models across the major fashion markets. That had never been done before, and that’s when I knew I was on to something.”

Peters credits the success of his models also to a certain Jamaican je ne sais quoi, noting that although he scouts regionally, perhaps not as intensely as he might like, the Jamaican girls still seem to possess the right combination of body type and features.

“Back then the aesthetic of the models was distinctly Jamaican but equally international in allure, and everyone was talking about this look. This then led me, in 2002, to create the ground-breaking Faces of Summer Model Search with CVM TV that caused much excitement across Jamaica. I toured various areas with the cameras as I searched for fashion’s next big thing. At the time I knew nothing about America’s Next Top Model, and I was the first to do such a TV project in the Caribbean. We had early international successes, [and] the energy [from] the show and the success of the first batch of global model placements were perfect for the future of SAINT to be determined.”

Peters also credited a shift in the industry’s aesthetic of beauty as part of the rise:

“There was a new appreciation of dark-skinned, afro-featured models and the realisation that a beauty-queen body does not a top model make....The consistency with how we kept putting out stars made Saint set itself apart. The global expectation nowadays is super-high as to which Saint stars will emerge. That Saint is the leader in model management in Jamaica was made patently clear by the 10 top model agents who jetted in as judges for the Fashion Face of the Caribbean 2017. There is no other event of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean, and we are proud of the mutually respectful relationship we have with these agencies.”

While preferring to keep “the formula” under wraps, Peters describes obstacles in building his business as sometimes typical of startups in a third world economy: “Limited financing simply meant I had to be extremely frugal and make sure we secured the best deals from partners. I also maintained low overheads.”

Not so typically, Peters also recounts that he has had his share of knocks. “I’ve faced deliberate obstacles set up by wannabe powerbrokers and “friends”, sometimes in the political sphere and at other levels. They seemed to have forgotten that fashion is global and goes beyond the 876!”

Surprising many who were not familiar with his past in production, it seemed out of context when Peters started hosting a talk show. Four seasons later, the popularity of the show - due in part to its wholesome appeal, as topics and guests remain at a PG-13 level - is growing fast on the island.

This marks but the first of a few steps, as Peters can share that the show represents just a portion of a carefully planned foray into media.

“The feedback on the Deiwght Peters Show Season 3 was just incredible. I am humbled but thoroughly motivated by the success, and already planning Season 4. I am developing a new TV show that will surely be another hit... the Deiwght Peters Studios will be the largest independent producer of lifestyle content for TV and other visual platforms, executing in a very different way than what is presently being done. We have 5 shows in development now.”

Balancing these varied roles is a challenge Peters has embraced by developing his own coping mechanism: “...having a structured approach to teamwork. I am keen on taking one step at a time to make sure each business venture undertaken becomes a solid success before I move on. Also, ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ is a truism not to be taken for granted.”

In terms of personal motivation, Peters is a self-proclaimed man of faith:

“The belief that there is a bigger positive being that is always in your corner serves to boost confidence when you know you are doing something right and positive.”

He looks to titans of industry — fashion and otherwise — for inspiration: “Ambition with integrity motivates me. In the model management business top agents like Kyle Hagler (president of NEXT Worldwide), Carole White (founder of Premier,London), Sarah Doukas (founder of STORM,London) and Marzia BAVA (Why Not, Milan) are all models of inspiration. In general business I absolutely admire Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Sir Richard Branson, and Butch Stewart. Their journey to success had challenges — some similar to mine. They became leaders over their competitors by sheer creativity, tenacity and passion - and most importantly, they never gave up. I also love their confidence and bravado and willingness to do new things. They also positively impact many lives.”

So what’s next for Deiwght Peters? “Taking the Deiwght Peters Show global through syndication [and] expanding the Saint International scouting formula to other regions...Sharing the magic of changing lives with other ambitious youngsters across the world.”





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