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As actor Laverne Cox told Time during her history-making cover interview back in 2014, “We are in a place now where more and more trans people want to come forward and say ‘This is who I am.’ And more trans people are willing to tell their stories. More of us are living visibly and pursuing our dreams visibly, so people can say, ‘Oh yeah, I know someone who is trans.'” And, thankfully, several years later, it seems that’s just as true today as it was then.
Thankfully, more and more trans people are now coming forward and feeling comfortable publicly sharing their stories and proudly living their truth, with the fashion industry being a main sector in which it feels like trans people are finally getting the visibility and opportunities they deserve. From models to designers, there are a number of trailblazers right now who are making inclusivity their mission, and Women.com is highlighting just a few of the people we think need to be on your radar — because they’re doing big things.
Isis King has gone from strength to strength since her reality TV days
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Reality TV fans may remember Isis King from her days of rubbing shoulders with Tyra Banks on cycle 11 of “America’s Next Top Model” all the way back in 2008 — she originally appeared as an extra in a photo shoot on the show for cycle 10, and got recruited by Banks herself. King then returned to the model search for cycle 17, an all-star season, and has been vocal about crediting Banks for giving more visibility to trans people. “Tyra was ahead of the curve when I was on the show in 2009. She opened up doors. So many people opened doors for me, and then I opened doors for the next generation,” King told Teen Vogue in 2015. But that’s far from this beauty’s only claim to fame, as she’s also an actor and has appeared in the likes of “When They See Us” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.” She’s also designed her own clothing collection! Talk about an all-around talent.
Speaking to Deadline in 2019, King explained that she’d seen a lot of positive changes for trans people since her first “ANTM” stint, but there’s still plenty she still wants to do for the community and herself. “There’s just so much more I want. I have to just be more confident,” she shared. “I just want to continue to bring positivity into my environment and say, ‘This is where I belong.'”
Pia Davis is breaking down boundaries in the fashion world
Through her brand, No Sesso, Pia Davis has quite an impressive achievement under her belt as she became the very first transgender designer to present a collection during New York Fashion Week in 2019. “Being one of the first trans artists to be on the fashion calendar was really major. It was kind of unheard of before then,” Davis, who founded the brand alongside Autumn Randolph and Erin Hayes, explained to High Snobiety in 2022. “And just being seen for the work we put out, the designs, and the conceptual art was very important, because they don’t just put anyone on that calendar. We were making history.”
No Sesso is all about gender-neutral clothing (in Italian, the phrase literally translates to mean no gender), and it has some very major —and we mean major — fans. Among those spotted in No Sesso clothing include the likes of Kim Kardashian, SZA, and Lizzo. Speaking about how things have progressed for the trans community in the public eye, Davis told Nylon, “There has been a lot of progress compared to the past. There’s more representation all around. There could definitely be more, but it’s in a step towards the right direction.” As for what Davis would like to see happen next, she wants “more creatives getting a chance in a platform to show their creativity. Brands reaching out to designers to collaborate, and designers that are a little bit more independent to collaborate.”
Teddy Quinlivan was the first trans model to front a campaign for Chanel
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Teddy Quinlivan is certainly blazing a trail. Also known as Theodora Quinlivan, she became the first trans model to be front and center in a campaign for Chanel, and has strutted her stuff on the runway for the likes of major fashion houses including, Prada, Dior, and Gucci.
Quinlivan told the world about her transgender identity in 2017 while speaking to CNN Style. “I’ve decided to reveal my trans identity because of the political climate in the world right now — particularly in the United States,” she explained at the time. “There’s been violence against transgender people — particularly transgender women of color — since before I even knew what transgender was. I just felt a great sense of urgency. I’m very fortunate to be in [a] position I never really thought I would be. It’s really important to take advantage of a time like this.” Quinlivan transitioned when she was 16 years old and explained she’d been living proudly as a cis woman ever since. The star also shared she decided it was time to tell her truth publicly because, like the other amazing people in this article, she wanted to be a public role model for those who didn’t have many. “If being transgender is something that gets attached to my name throughout my career, then it’s for a worthy cause. But I look forward to the day when it doesn’t matter,” she said.
Chris Rhodes’ fashion brand is bringing a lot of attention to the LGBTQI+ community
FLAVNT designer and co-owner Chris Rhodes is doing good for the LGBTQ+ community through his work. The brand was created to help LGBTQ+ people with funding for important causes, and as it states on its website, “We are a brand by queer people, for queer people.” The fashion brand only hires LGBTQ+ models to bring more attention to the marginalized group and create more role models in the world.
Rhodes has been very vocal about his journey to living his truth, sharing a poignant post on his Instagram in 2022 about his trans identity. “I don’t owe anyone other than myself any proof that I am man enough, or frankly human enough, to deserve basic decency and respect. It doesn’t matter how I grew up or who I was born as, it doesn’t matter what’s between my legs,” he wrote. “It matters what I say and know of myself because I’ve been here for all 30 years of that journey, every second, every minute, every day,” he added, noting that he’s living a much happier life as Chris than he did pre-transitioning. We love him for it, as well as the amazing work he’s doing for the community.
Hunter Schafer is totally killing it as a model and on the big screen
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Hunter Schafer may just be one of the biggest names in the fashion industry right now. The stunning star has graced some of the biggest runways in the world during her career, walking for the likes of major fashion houses such as Marc Jacobs and Prada. Another place you might know her from? Her role in the HBO series “Euphoria,” of course, bringing visibility to the community by playing the transgender high-fashion muse-like teen character, Jules Vaughn.
Speaking to Harper’s Bazaar in 2021, Schafer opened up about her work and how she believes being trans actually helps her to be better at her career. “I think there’s a phenomenon among the trans and queer community, and it’s why we make great artists a lot of the time,” she explained. “When your exterior world and your body and your self are not in line with who you are, you turn inward. And my theory is that I built a really rich inner world until I started feeling like myself in my body. I’ve been trying to do the work of digging up stuff, but it’s going to take a while to excavate everything,” she added.
Saisha Shinde has gone on to big things since Project Runway
Fashion designer Saisha Shinde has made some major moves in the fashion world since appearing on season 14 of “Project Runway” back in 2015, coming in sixth place. Shinde’s appearance on the competition show was before her transition, with her coming out to her fans via Instagram in 2021 (the very same year she designed a gown for India’s Harnaaz Sandhu as the winner of the 2021 Miss Universe pageant). “Accepting and sharing my truth hasn’t been easy, but I’m blessed to be born to a father who has been an endless source of strength, a family who has always came around for my happiness, and friends who have rallied through the toughest times,” Shinde shared in her poignant social media post. “I thank all those of you who have helped me birth Saisha Shinde. I promise to always live my truth fearlessly.”
It sounds like Shinde plans to live loudly as her true self, and as she should. She explained to PinkVilla in 2021 that it’s her aim to do more to help other trans people and help them to see that the sky’s the limit when it comes to how they live their lives. “I want to get more celebrities involved, more politicians involved, ensure more jobs are given and normalize [being transgender],” she shared. “This is where my privilege comes to use.”
Valentina Sampaio was the first trans model to represent several brands
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Valentina Sampaio has a very impressive resume when it comes to her modeling work, as she became the first transgender model to represent big name brands like Victoria’s Secret (which has a rocky history when it comes to LGBTQ+ models) and Sport’s Illustrated. “Being appointed the first transgender model for the brand is a hugely important moment not only for myself but my community and beyond,” the Brazilian model told Vogue of her Victoria’s Secret gig in 2019. “I hope [this can] be a huge step toward more inclusivity and representation for everybody,” she added. But don’t think her dreams stop there. “I feel very proud of my achievements, but this is just the beginning,” she teased during the interview. “It is important that I use my voice and my visibility to try to change the status quo,” the model added, noting that she wanted to live in a world where it didn’t make the headlines when a fashion house booked a transgender model.
But it sounds like this beauty will have no trouble getting booked for years to come. In addition to her work with two of the world’s biggest lingerie and swimwear brands, she’s also modeled for some of the other biggest brands in the world, from L’Oréal, to Dior, to Marc Jacobs.
Gogo Graham is bringing options to the trans community
Gogo Graham is a fashion designer who designs clothing for other trans women. “I wanted to start designing and creating my own brand when I saw that there were no other brands out there run by a trans woman, making clothes for trans women,” she explained to Vogue in 2020, revealing she decided it was time to take things into her own hands because she knew exactly what the community needed. “When I started out, all of the brands using trans models were primarily created by cis men with surely the best intentions, but who did not necessarily understand trans narratives and who would present them in a way that didn’t feel authentic or relatable to me,” she said.
For that reason, it was equally important for Graham to have trans people model her clothes, which is why she even enlisted the help of Hunter Schafer. Schafer interviewed Graham for Interview in 2022, and shared that it was thanks to the “Euphoria” star that she was able to have a runway show. But Graham’s work isn’t done when it comes to helping trans people in fashion, as she admitted she thinks more needs to be done to bring about equality. “I see more trans people being cast in stuff, but I don’t know what that really means. I’m like, ‘Did they get paid properly? Were they cast one time, just for that moment? Is it actually benefiting people?’ I don’t know.”
Andreja Pejić never expected her transition to be so public
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Andreja Pejić is arguably one of the most recognizable trans models in the world, but that’s not exactly how she envisioned things. “I never imagined I’d be so public about it. Perhaps if I was in a different profession, I wouldn’t have worn ‘trans; on my forehead. But there’s a difference between not wanting to make a big deal of something and fearing the effect it will have on my life,” she explained to ES in 2016 about her decision to be so public about her transition. “But it’s all out there now.” Pejic transitioned two years before that interview but has been identifying as a woman since the age of 13.
The Australian model has made appearances on the runway for some of the most notable fashion houses in the world, from Galliano to Marc Jacobs to Jean Paul Gaultier, and also blazed a trail by being the first transgender woman to be featured inside the pages of American Vogue. But that’s not all of her massive achievements, because you may actually know Pejić from somewhere else entirely. One of her biggest claims to fame? Pejić famously starred in the David Bowie “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” music video alongside none other than Tilda Swinton.
Landon Reed’s Awarewolf started for an important reason
Fashion designer Landon Reed has a touching reason for founding his brand, Awarewolf, as he actually started creating garments as a way to fund his transition and pay for his top surgery in 2015. But Reed’s impact on the fashion world has gone from strength to strength since then. The company described itself on Instagram as being a “queer lifestyle brand,” and Reed’s dedication to aiding the LGBTQ+ community is pretty evident through the sale of pro-LGBTQ+ clothing and accessories. Almost every item available from the company promotes the community and different sexualities and identities through logos and graphics. It also offers some subtler pieces for those who may still be coming to terms with their gender or sexuality, as Reed started it after realizing he couldn’t find a brand that he felt really represented him.
As Reed admitted on the “Squeegee & Ink Podcast,” he noticed there are a lot of brands who try to appeal to LGBTQ+ people in their apparel because it temporarily benefits them, but they then don’t follow up by doing any of the work it takes to create real inclusion. “There are those huge big brands that are all about that rainbow capitalism you know, but they’re just they’re just putting the rainbow logo on for this month and then next month it goes away. But my rainbow logo stays, you know,” he said.
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10 Transgender Fashion Models And Designers Bringing Inclusivity To The Industry