By Sara Holzman
The fashion industry has a dismal reputation of glorifying overly-thin white women. Yes, in the ‘90s, Naomi Campbell and Alek Wek rose to supermodel status, but there were rarely more than a few women of color walking the runways then. Today, the fashion industry is brimming with a new generation of models who better reflect the diverse world we live in.
More women of color graced the 2019 catwalks than ever before (90 percent of the top NYFW models, in fact). While stats in 2020 disappointedly revealed a decline in inclusivity at NYFW in three categories—race, size, and gender—we're hopeful that this year's lack of representation is an anomaly. Fashion's recent outcry against injustice has given us hope that there will be continual transformation.
In an industry that sets the trends, embracing models from all backgrounds and gender identities is not just a casting choice; it's a responsibility in helping to mobilize change. Ahead, the breakout faces of the modeling world (women who are also artists, academics, and advocates), and how their individual experiences and contributions prove there's some progress (and lot's more work to do) in an industry that, for many people, sets the standard of beauty.
Somalian-American model Halima Aden made history as the first hijab-wearing model to grace the New York City catwalks at Kanye West's Fall 2017 Yeezy show. Aden, who is now 22, was raised in Kenya before moving to the U.S. at age 7. She continues to advocate for Muslim women in beauty and fashion. In 2020, Aden helped create a capsule collection of hijabs and turbans that are compatible with face coverings to protect against COVID-19.
Dominican fashion model Anyelina Rosa has starred in campaigns for H&M Beauty, Brandon Maxwell (pictured), Max Mara, Zara, and Reebok x Victoria Beckham. The 19-year-old beauty walked at Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, and Rick Owens for the fall/winter 2020 season.
In 2020 alone, Nigerian fashion model Mayowa Nicholas starred in campaigns for Chanel Beauty, H&M, and Express. She's walked 283 shows in her five-year career, including Balmain, Burberry, and Michael Kors' fall/winter 2020 shows.
Paloma Elsesser has been modeling for the past four years, but it was only this season that the model booked any major runway shows. Elsesser made headlines as Fendi's first plus-size model, when she walked the fall/winter 2020 runway for the brand's "liberation-themed" runway collection. She also walked the fall/winter 2020 runways at Alexander McQueen and Lanvin's Paris collections.
Hyun Ji Shin
One of the top 50 models of the moment according to models.com, Hyun Ji Shin is the star of this summer's new Zara campaign. During the fall/winter 2020 presentations in February and March, she walked 28 shows including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, Saint Laurent, and Tory Burch (pictured).
South Sudanese model Ayok Yai was discovered after her picture was snapped by a street style photographer in D.C. in 2017. At the time, she was studying biochemistry at Howard University. After signing with a New York agency, Yai became only the second Black model to open one of Prada's runway shows, following in the footsteps of Naomi Campbell.
Born in Somalia, Ugbad Abdi spent several years of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp. At the age of nine, Abdi and her family relocated to Des Moines, Iowa. It was there that she was scouted by Next Models via an Instagram post. At 19, Abdi has become one of the industry's top models, starring in campaigns for Michael Kors and Etro for fall/winter 2020.
Dutch model Jill Kortleve was the first plus-size model to be cast at a Chanel fashion show in the past decade. Her appearance on the fall/winter 2020 runways—she also walked Fendi and Alexander McQueen—was an important step toward bringing more body diversity to the catwalk.
Janaye Furman made history when she became the first Black woman to open Louis Vuitton's Paris runway show in the fall of 2017. The headline-making model was first discovered a year earlier, during a 2016 school performance at the American Musical Dramatic Academy in L.A., where she was enrolled. Since then, Furman has walked in nearly 100 shows, including Vuitton's fall/winter 2020 collection.
Mona Tougaard, who hails from Aarhhus, Denmark, has landed some major campaigns in the past several seasons, including Burberry, Chanel, Chloé, Loewe, Max Mara, Prada, and Versace. At just 17, the Danish model—whose heritage is a mix of Somalian, Ethiopian, Danish, and Turkish—has already graced i-D Magazine's April 2020 cover and has most recently modeled in Chanel's pre-fall 2020 show.
Top model Achenrin Madit notably walked more shows than any other model in the fall/winter 2020 season. Madit appeared on the runways of 39 different designers, including opening the shows at Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler. Born in Nebraska to South Sudanese parents, the 17-year-old star has gained much respect from fashion's prominent stylists and casting directors. She continues to blossom with campaigns for Marc Jacobs, Boss, Stella McCartney, and Proenza Schouler.
South Sudanese model Shanelle Nyasiase was born in Ethiopia and raised in Kenya, where she often worked local modeling jobs to support herself. She was discovered by New York's Women Management and made her debut on the fall 2017 runways, walking for Miu Miu, Tom Ford, and Alexander McQueen.
Named 2019 model-of-the-year by the British Fashion Council, Adut Akech was born in South Sudan and raised in Australia, where her family sought refuge by way of Kenya. In her two-year career, she's walked the coveted runways of Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, and Prada. Her face graces the cover of Vogue Japan's June 2020 issue.
Adesuwa Aighewi was born in Minnesota, but raised predominantly in Nigeria by her Chinese-Thai mother and Nigerian father. A model, filmmaker, and advocate, Aighewi was not your ordinary teenager. She won an internship at NASA at age 22, but decided to pursue modeling instead. She's landed campaigns with Dior, AG, and Chanel, and has become a leading voice for industry-wide change, through her writing and social media presence.
Chinese model Sijia Kang made her modeling debut at the Louis Vuitton' 2018 resort show. She's since starred in last summer's Fenty campaign and walked the runways at Oscar de la Renta, Brandon Maxwell, and Ulla Johnson.
U.K. cool girl, Hannah Shakespeare, has been modeling since 2015. Her latest projects include last summer's Miu Miu's film campaign, Somewhere, Nowhere, and appearances at Balmain and Thom Browne's fall/winter 2020 shows.
Born and raised in Orange County, California, Noah Carlos identifies as a gender non-binary model. After garnering a cult following online, Carlos was offered a modeling contract with IMG. Carlos has strutted across quite a few fall catwalks, including Coach, Rick Owens, and Self Portrait, and is continually advocating for more non-binary casting on the runways.
Angolan model Blésnya Minher has been ranked as one of the top 50 models by models.com, starring in campaigns for Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Versace. Minher made her rounds on the fashion circuit this fall, walking for Miu Miu, Chloé, and Valentino.
Brazilian model Ana Barbosa broke onto the scene in 2019, walking for Prada, Dior, and JW Anderson. She's since added a slew of other designers to her roster, including Marc Jacobs and Dior Haute Couture. She also starred in Dior's Cruise 2020 campaign.
Chinese model Chun Jin is one of the industry's top newcomers. She's landed multiple campaigns with Fendi and has walked the runways at Saint Laurent, Prada, and Louis Vuitton in her short, yet mighty, one-and-a-half-year fashion career.
Born in the Bronx and raised in Gambia, 26 year-old Fatou Jobe was scouted in 2018 while waiting for the subway in New York City. She turned heads at the fall 2018 collections, where she debuted on the runways of Givenchy, Dior, and Valentino.
Kukua Williams was scouted during a music festival in England in May 2018. She's since become a fixture on the runways at Stella McCartney, Coach, and Louis Vuitton. Williams is the founder of A Mixed World, a blog spotlighting her experiences with her own racial identity, coming from a mixed-heritage background.
Aliet Sarah made her debut at JW Anderson's fall/winter '19 show and was one of the top models on the London runways that season. Born in South Sudan, Sarah and her two siblings endured the lost of their parents, and sought refuge from the war in Uganda. She would later moved to Canada to live with her aunt. After sustaining the hardships of war and the death of her parents, she often credits modeling for supplying her with hope for the future.
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