These 23 Transgender Models Are Revolutionizing the Fashion Industry
In recent years, the fashion industry has made more progress toward inclusive representation of transgender models. Brands like New York City-based Chromat and LA-based Foo and Foo were casting transgender models in runway shows and advertising campaigns early on, while other retailers and fashion houses are making changes much later, most notably with Victoria's Secret hiring its first transgender model, Valentina Sampaio, in August 2019 (later hiring its first Black transgender model, Emira D'Spain, in February 2022) and Chanel recruiting 25-year-old Teddy Quinlivan as a new beauty spokesmodel in 2019 as well.
While these symbolic steps do mark a positive shift, we also need to move beyond surface-level announcements and establish sustainable and long-lasting change. The industry has a long way to go before achieving equitable representation, both externally and internally. But none of the progress made so far would be possible without these models speaking out and challenging the status quo. Even before "Euphoria" star Hunter Schafer became a darling of the fashion world or Indya Moore made an indelible impact on FX's "Pose," these models were owning the catwalks and empowering their followers as activists for the LGBTQ+ community.
Ultimately, these transgender models are the real changemakers who fought against years of exclusion from the industry. As the fashion industry slowly opens up to cast more diverse models who are inclusive of all people, we anticipate seeing more of these faces.
Read on to learn more about these 23 transgender models making waves in the fashion industry while advocating for increased LGBTQ+ representation.
— Additional reporting by Sarah Wasilak and Shelcy Joseph
In 2017, Leyna Bloom was one of the few openly transgender models walking the runways at New York Fashion Week. As the second trans model to be featured in "SI" Swim, alongside Valentina Sampaio, she also made history as the first Black and Asian trans woman in the iconic magazine. Her feature film "Port Authority" (also starring Jari Jones) made a debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, making her the first trans woman of color to lead a role in a movie featured at the prestigious festival.
Hunter Schafer may be best known for her role as Jules on "Euphoria," but she's also a talented model who has walked for Dior, Miu Miu, Vera Wang, and Helmut Lang. Speaking to The New York Times about trans representation in Hollywood, she said: "I think it's always preferable that a trans person plays a trans person — one, because there's enough cisgender actors in Hollywood, and two, because trans people can bring levels of experience to the trans experience that they might be portraying. A cisgender actor might be able to conceptualize and get it down to a T but won't have the experiences in their back pocket that they can bring forward to use for that character. Trans people deserve to see themselves represented on their own TV screens, not being inhabited by people who might not completely understand them."
Aaron Rose Philip
In 2018, Aaron Rose Philip became the first Black, transgender, and physically disabled model to ever be represented by a major modeling agency (currently represented by MiLK Management and Dennis Schubert Modeling Agency). The Antiguan-American model was the first to use a wheelchair at a luxury runway show during her debut for Moschino in 2021. She has been featured on the Paper Magazine cover, has shot editorials for more than one rendition of Vogue, and has appeared in campaigns for Nike, Dove, Sephora, and Outdoor Voices.
Theodora "Teddy" Quinlivan was the first openly transgender person to work for Chanel Beauty in 2019 when she landed an ad campaign. But she was actually discovered by Louis Vuitton's Nicolas Ghesquière in 2015 and has since worked with many other luxury fashion houses including Saint Laurent, Dior, and Carolina Herrera. She has also appeared on the catwalks of Fendi, Chloe, and Marc Jacobs. She transitioned when she was 16 and came out in September 2017, two years after making a name for herself with Louis Vuitton.
In an interview with Elle in 2018, she said: "I think fashion, in terms of social power, is the most important industry. Advertising has tremendous impact in terms of who and what we find attractive. It's a hard sphere to penetrate. But I have. So I can't stay silent while a reality TV president actively fights to prevent people like me from living a normal life . . . Why can't a transgender person walk in a Versace show or run for office? She already has—and maybe, one day, I will."
Lea T has been a muse for fashion designer Riccardo Tisci for more than a decade. When he made her the face of a campaign, she told The New York Times in an interview, "He saw that my transitioning process was hard, how prejudiced people are and how I was suffering. He wanted to make me happy to have a nice picture of me." You might have also noticed her on the covers of the Italian editions of Vogue, Grazia, and Glamour.
Brazilian-born Valentina Sampaio made history as Victoria's Secret's first-ever transgender model in 2019, telling POPSUGAR at the time, "To me, [gender-neutral modeling] represents a victory for society; not just the trans community, but for all people who are currently underrepresented in fashion. We are experiencing a moment — an evolution, and it is a positive one. Brands are finally learning and catching up to the importance of inclusivity and diversity." Sampaio went on to make headlines in 2020 as "Sports Illustrated"'s first trans model to grace the "SI" Swim Issue.
Transgender nonbinary actor and "Pose" star Indya Moore began their modeling career working with luxury brands like Dior and Gucci, then moved on to acting (you might have seen them in the critically acclaimed "Saturday Church"), scoring major magazine covers like Harper's Bazaar, Porter, and Elle along the way. The model is also immersed in the world of fashion design; last year, they created a gender-fluid and size-inclusive capsule collection with Tommy Hilfiger, bringing their values to the 37-year-old brand.
Hari Nef catapulted into the limelight in 2015 after becoming the first trans model to be signed to the modeling agency IMG models. Since then, she's made a splash in the fashion scene, starred in the movie "Assassination Nation," and made an appearance in the first season of the hit Netflix show "You." She has also appeared in "Acting For a Cause" and "Room 104," among other series. Nef has turned her Instagram page into an educational resource for transgender rights, and you only need a quick glance to notice her far-reaching influence.
Jari Jones is an influential model, actress, and activist. She appeared in Calvin Klein's 2020 Pride campaign and was the first Black trans woman to produce a film competing at the Cannes Film Festival. She was recently recognized at the GLAAD Media Awards for her role in the movie "Port Authority," an honor she shared on Instagram with the caption: "Thank you @glaad for recognizing the importance of honoring Black Trans Women and the major contribution we have not only to our community but society."
Nathan Westling made his runway debut at Marc Jacobs in 2013 under a different name. He announced his transition in 2019 and has been named one of Business of Fashion's 500 most influential figures in the industry. He has starred in campaigns for Louis Vuitton, Versace, Prada, Chanel, Dior, and Alexander McQueen, just to name a few, and has been featured in many magazines.
Munroe Bergdorf is a British model who has walked in London and NYC Fashion Weeks and uses her platform to address hard-hitting topics, including LGBTQ+ rights, racism, and feminism. In a recent Instagram post, for example, she shared a thought-provoking graphic, educating her more than half a million followers on what Pride really is. In June 2020, this change-maker joined L'Oréal Paris's Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board.
Andreja Pejic has been making waves in the fashion industry since landing an international campaign for Gaultier before she transitioned. While Pejic used to model both men's and women's lines, she has since stated she will be modeling as a woman. In 2018, she made her film debut in the movie "The Girl in the Spider's Web."
Laith Ashley is an artist, singer, actor, and model who broke onto the scene in "RuPaul's Drag Race" and "Pose." He transitioned medically at 24 and made major waves modeling Calvin Klein underwear, then going on to work with Barney's New York, Diesel, and Abercrombie & Fitch.
Since appearing as a contestant on "America's Next Top Model," Isis King has become a well-known face in the transgender community, walking in shows like Savage x Fenty. King was the first trans model to appear on "ANTM," and while she didn't win the competition, she's certainly reached new heights.
The Israeli actress and model is Ukrainian born and has walked runways such as Marc Jacobs, Diesel, and Alon Livné. She has also participated in campaign work and starred in films such as 2018's "Flawless."
Chella Man, who is a Deaf trans genderqueer artist, author, and designer, created a beautiful jewelry collection and accompanying campaign with Asian-led brand Private Policy. Man also executive produced the docuseries "Trans in Trumpland" and wrote a book called "Continuum" that explores his identities. He has been featured in magazines, is friends of many fashion brands, and stars as a model in many of his own projects.
In 2013, Ines Rau was the first openly transgender model to be featured in Playboy. The French model is an LGBTQ+ activist who often speaks out about gay rights on her Instagram.
Oslo Grace, who is nonbinary transgender, hails from California and has walked the runway for Gucci, modeling for both menswear and womenswear.
Arisce Wanzer is an American model who has walked for Topshop and was featured in a campaign for Kenneth Cole. To date, she has been featured in magazines like Vogue, Elle, and Forbes.
Geena Rocero is a runway pro who came out as transgender while giving a TED Talk. She founded Gender Proud, an organization with the goal "to elevate transgender justice and equality."
Juliana Huxtable is not just a model. She's also a DJ, an artist, and an influencer. Her work has even been shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Carmen Carrera rose to fame after appearing on "RuPaul's Drag Race" and has since been featured in many magazines, including W and Time.
Born in Thailand, MiMi Tao was the first openly transgender model on "Project Runway" in 2019. Today, she's a widely recognized advocate for the transgender community within the fashion industry.