As founder and head booker of Basic Models Management, Bonita Ma (third from left and dressed in a Miu Miu skirt suit and 8 Moncler Richard Quinn pumps), has helped prove that home-grown models have what it takes to front international runways and campaigns. Among her brood that’s going places are (from left) Gucci and Rodarte runway regular Layla Ong in a Prada sweater and skirt and Miu Miu boots; Kaci Beh, who’s walked for the likes of Emporio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana, in a Miu Miu coat, shirt and pants, and 8 Moncler Richard Quinn pumps; and Nicole Liew, who made her Milan Fashion Week debut in February, in a Miu Miu gilet, shirt and skirt, and Prada Oxfords

What she does

What do some of Singapore’s most-in-demand models-of-the-moment like Fiona Fussi, Aimee Cheng-Bradshaw and the Alessandro Michele-approved Layla Ong – our multi-time cover girl with this month’s marking her third in two years – have in common? They’re all represented here by Basic Models Management, the agency started by Ma and her husband in 2012 (out of the HDB home of Ma’s mother, to boot). That would make the 34-year-old Ma – who also bears the title of head booker – their industry mum, so to speak (yeah, her surname couldn’t be more apt).

A typical day for her involves meeting models hourly from the minute she steps into the office (now located in an industrial building in the MacPherson area) to discuss their progress and even content for their social media channels. Come 4 p.m., she switches over to EU time when the agencies in Europe start work and she has to coordinate placements and bookings for her models who are based there. Things only get more intense during the Fashion Week season when she’s “practically on call at all hours”, toggling multiple time zones to tend to all of her models’ needs.

“They should be able to ring at 2 a.m. here because they know that I’ll be there to assist them,” she says matter-of-factly. Take for instance how she had to go into emergency mode in February and rebook flights for models Ong and up-and-comer Kaci Beh so that they could return home earlier from Milan Fashion Week as the Covid-19 pandemic encroached on the Italian city.

To think that Ma fell into the industry 13 years ago because she had wanted a job with no dress code restrictions and stumbled upon a talent agency looking for a project coordinator. These days, her focus lies in championing local faces. Her answer when asked to cite her career highlights says plenty. “Fiona getting picked by L’Oreal to be its first non-celebrity ambassador in China; Aimee nailing a Neutrogena endorsement; Layla getting confirmed to walk Milan Fashion Week,” she rattles off, all while beaming like, well, a proud mum.

Her advice for those looking to break into the industry

“It is very important to know that you’re not here to party and make friends. You’ll be sacrificing a lot of personal time and space for work because you’ll be on your phone all the time. You need to be good with stress and know how to align the expectations of clients and models, which is often a tough balance”. (PS. Being a polyglot helps, she adds, as a booker deals with models and agents from all over the world).

Photography Vee Chin Art Direction & Styling Adeline Eng Hair Miho Kim/1tto+lim Makeup Beno Lim, using Pixi Beauty

This article first appeared in the May 2020 BTS Edition of FEMALE.