The Modern Fashion Model, A Fashion Reverie Series: Part 2, Plus Size and Transgender Models

Image courtesy of pagesix.com

The second installment of this series focuses on the experiences of three plus-size models and a transgender model.

The issue of “fairness” and inclusivity has been top-of-mind for the general public for the past three years. In 2020, the tragic murders of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor shocked the world to its core and the COVID-19 lockdown gave us the time to consider how inclusive we are as a society. The fashion world was no exception, and we began seeing more models of varying ethnicities, size and genders in fashion shows and editorials. Previously, plus-size and trans models with notable exceptions—Ashley Graham being an exception—and had been relegated to fringe status. Fashion Reverie spoke with three plus-size models and a transgender model who have all experienced success in their respective modeling careers. In candid conversations with Fashion Reverie, they shared success stories, how they are treated, challenges they face and weight-in on how inclusive the fashion industry is for plus-size and trans models.

MEET OUR ROUNDTABLE PANELISTS

Emma Schlichting is a plus-size and fit model who has worked with Old Navy, Stitch Fix, Levis, Alpine Butterfly Swim, and Ad Black, a feeder brand to Target as a fit model. She starred in Episode 5 of the new Netflix Series, “Next in Fashion,” hosted by model and fashion designer, Alexa Chung, and Tan France, fashion designer and TV personality from “Queer Eye.”

Instagram: @emmaschlick

Plus-size Model Kimberly E. Stone has over ten years of experience modeling as a size 4 model and more recently as a size 12 plus-size model. She was called “ethnic” early on in her career, and is now referred to as “BIPOC,” a new category for women with “textured” hair and a face “of color.”  She is editor-in-chief of POSHGLAM and is working to relaunch POSHGLAM as an app in 2022. 

Instagram: @kimberlyestone

Liris Crosse is referred to as “the plus-size Naomi Campbell.” In 2017, she was the first plus-size model to win the “Project Runway” Model Competition. Liris is also the first plus-size and Black model to partner with a bridal brand; she works closely with Maggie Sottero bridal.

Instagram: @lirisc, www.LirisC.com, and www.LOAWMBC.com

Ale Tristan is a Mexican transgender model who holds the title for Miss Trans Star USA 2019 and was a runner-up for Miss Trans World 2019. She has also walked at the Milan Fashion Week fall/winter 2020 shows. Her motto is, “Any change starts in your mind.”

Instagram: @ale_tristan_

Fashion Reverie: Who gave you your first big break?

Panelists: Emma, Kimberly, Liris, Ale

Image courtesy of JE Model Management

Emma: A family friend told me I should model. I looked at model management companies in San Francisco and went to open castings with digitals my Mom shot and developed at CVS. I didn’t know anything about the industry. I’ve been with JE Models, a boutique agency since September of 2017. I book a lot of fit modeling work.

Kimberly: I’m from Atlanta and was going to modeling competitions in malls. I studied at New York University and Baruch College, and the advice I got was to try modeling and to give an agent a year to get results. I’ve gotten a lot of commercial work, also called “slice of life.”

Liris:   I went to an open call for a models’ convention called Model Search America while in high school. They picked me to come to the regional convention to walk for the agencies.  I got callbacks from Elite, Zoli, Michelle Pommier, and Seventeen Magazine, but they all wanted me to lose weight.

After graduating, I moved to New York to pursue commercial modeling. Model Search America set up a meeting for me at Wilhelmina’s Curve division. They offered me a contract that day and my career started. I didn’t even know plus modeling existed; I was just excited to be signed!

Ale: I don’t even know how that happened, well no, I worked for it and then I went to Europe to participate in the Miss Trans Star USA pageant. When I won, I had already been through the transition. I started by accident, designers liked how I looked, but I was not out looking for a modeling career.

FR: Are modeling agencies and social media important to your career?

Panelists: Emma, Kimberly, Liris, Ale

Emma: I did go to an agency that had a curve division. They liked me as I was, I’ve got a sporty body, am a skateboarder and a bit of an adrenaline junkie. That said, I haven’t been pushed really hard by my agency.

I signed with Breakwall West in Manhattan Beach/LA that has big clients and connections, then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Since moving to LA, all the jobs I’ve booked happened via Instagram. Social media made me more comfortable to be in front of the camera. Clients started reaching out to me on social and I booked Machines for Freedom (a bike apparel company), a video for Stitch Fix and the spring campaign for Old Navy, all through my Instagram.

My San Francisco agency booked me for Beta Brand and found me through my Instagram. I’m at the point of questioning if I even need an agency.

Kimberly: I’ve had over 12 agents. An agency protects you from the wrong photographers and plays a huge role in a model’s career and development. I had it easier being fair skinned with light eyes when I started. Now, beautiful Black women are being celebrated and women can wear their hair natural.

Social media was very helpful when I had my own wordpress site, (poshglam.tumblr.com); It helped draw attention to my brand. I’d love to have more followers but am more focused on being a personal brand right now.

Liris: We live in a social media age where clients go to your Instagram before they even peek at your agency profile. Agents are still important because I can just focus on my art instead of also having to be the accountant, salesman, and secretary. They know about rates and usage and having one keeps a level of respect and mystique for a model. I’m thankful for my agent Dorothy at Dorothy Combs Models.

Ale: I do it all myself, no agency. It’s pretty much social media, that’s how people reach out to me. There are agents sending messages and I’m like, “no thanks.”

FR: Please comment on fairness and inclusivity in fashion and the recent interest in plus-size and trans models. Is it a trend with legs or just a fad?

Panelists: Emma, Kimberly, Liris, Ale

Emma: It’s money motivated but also rooted in some need for change. As a plus-size person it’s important to see plus-size models. It’s making a difference for people who can see themselves in ads. Victoria’s Secret lost so many sales because they weren’t inclusive about size and are so fat phobic that they’re willing to lose sales. They’re the anomaly.

There’s a bigger message of, ‘Be who you are, who you are meant to be.’

Some of us are never going to be tiny, it’s just genetics. There’s so much overlap with Influencers and they are getting work as models. The two go hand in hand especially with COVID-19. Some people have set up studios at home to shoot E-com at home for brands.

It’s also about if a brand is going to extend their plus size offerings, and finally give attention to the plus-size community. I love that I’m a part of the process when I give my feedback. Also, plus-size wouldn’t exist without the Black community that has always celebrated curves; we’re finally started to learn from that.

Kimberly: No, I don’t, my agent told me to lose weight.  I’m researching cool sculpting and liposuction to maybe get back to a 4.  Ashley (Graham) and I don’t carry the weight the same way, mine is in my midsection. I’m in the process of changing agents and am getting new pictures as a plus.

I’m also hard on myself, to be honest. I’ve always felt like Euro centric standards of beauty prevail, but I’ve had success as a girl who’s ‘ethnic ‘or ‘exotic.’ Commercial work is what pays, and I’ve done well in that “slice of life” space. I may venture out as an older model, we’ll see.

Image courtesy of Beyond Fashion Magazine

Liris: It has made some impact, but the long-term proof will be in the continuous actions not just words, and pray we get to the point where we aren’t surprised to see models of various shapes, sizes, and ethnicities in magazines, campaigns and shows. It’s just more of a simmering fire on the stove of fashion. Social media has given consumers a voice to speak up for diversity and what they want to see. Society is a lot freer now and they don’t want the old structures of fashion and advertising, anymore. 

Ale: Right now, with all those movements, it’s Black, inclusivity in everything. There are some genuine people, but a lot want to get the attention for using trans. Social Media gives minorities a way to fight back. Everyone is different and how you want the result to be and how you envision yourself, which includes the surgeries you want to get. At the beginning, I wanted to be known for being trans, but now I want to be known as myself. After a while, it takes away something from me and some of my essence. The tag ‘trans,’ pigeonholes you.

FR: Is the pay scale for plus-size and trans models equal to that of “regular” models? Are you getting equal pay?

Panelists: Emma, Kimberly, Ale

Emma: My rate is $187.50, and my takeaway is $150/hour when I do fittings. Not a lot of people know about this and it’s under-appreciated especially in the plus-size arena. I’ve noticed that some brands have a bunch of girls of the same size who are different body types, which make sense; plus-size women come in different shapes. I get to give feedback on the fit, it’s all about the user experience which can be different for the plus-size person.

Kimberly: I think I’m getting the going rate. When I did the soccer pictures my agent was able to get me the going rate.

Ale: I think it’s equal, at least for what I did at Milan Fashion Week.

FR: What are your best and worst experiences as a model?

Emma: I got booked for the Netflix series, “Next in Fashion” and then was told it would be “the underwear episode.” I had a little breakdown in the Target fitting room trying to get my nude underwear just right, but was okay when I realized that I was doing it for little girls who need to know beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.

My designers were great. Then, one of the stylists decided to switch out my size 11 shoes for huge size 13 ones with massive heels for the rehearsal. This was my first real runway job, and it was on Netflix! I could barely walk the next day, but it was the best and hardest day yet.

Liris: The unique experience of working on “Project Runway”, season 16 when I became one of the first plus models to win the model portion. As a plus-size, it was big to walk designer looks weekly, and to be at the New York Fashion Week (NYFW) finale. My presence on that show got respect for plus models for our runway walks and our body confidence. It gave me a platform to speak up for the plus-size woman consumer and that’s priceless.

Ale: Milan Fashion Week in February was my first big one; I was there for the February 2020 shows. My being there for shows just happened. I was in Europe for the Trans pageant and the designer (Steven Vazquez) was there dressing someone.  He said, “Wow, who are you?” and invited me to walk his show.

While there, I also got hired to walk for other designers. I don’t think it mattered if I was trans. That was great, having designers want you because of how you look. But once they know, there were the people who reached out to me, saying, “Because of all the things that are happening right now, we need a trans girl.”

FR: Is modeling your ultimate career aspiration?

Panelists: Emma, Kimberly, Liris, Ale

Emma: I plan to keep modeling but am not pursuing it full time. I don’t really have a dream modeling job but would love to shoot for Target and other big brands that have influenced my experience as a plus-size model.

Kimberly:  I want to book the Victoria’s Secret show. I’m doing a photo shoot, with Laretta Houston, who shot Tyra Banks for Sports Illustrated, to freshen-up my portfolio as a plus-size. An agent reached out to me for a national accessories campaign, and I’m communicating with the casting director. I’m still working on landing my big break in acting or modeling and I’m going to keep working.

I’m also an inventor of pants called ‘sexy shapers.’ I’m also launching POSHGLAM as an app; it’s in the wireframe stage now.

Liris: I keep booking great jobs, and recently became an ambassador for Athleta. They just released over 350+ styles for sizes 1x-3x available in store and online.

I also have a business, Life of a Working Model Bootcamp, birthed out of so many models asking me how to break into the business or how to up-level their careers. I have classes from how to get started to perfection in posing. I’ve had models who completed the bootcamps sign with major modeling agencies and walk NYFW shows!  Course dates are on Life of a Working Model Bootcamp on Facebook.

Image courtesy of pinterest.com

Ale: I have modeled for fun, not as a career. What turned me off was being looked at as an object. They wanted to say I was trans, not that I care, but I don’t want to be used.  I’m trying to focus more on the hair extension business I want to open in Washington, D.C., but I would do a campaign to help bring awareness to black trans women being killed. When I watched “Pose” and the character Candy was murdered, and the police didn’t do anything, I cried.

—Vivian Kelly

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