There was a time when fashion felt so predictably thin, white, and able-bodied that it was actually kind of exhausting. One can only be inspired by a slight variation on the same thing so many times, you know? However, 2015 was a little bit different. Last year, we arguably saw more diversity in fashion than ever before, and sometimes, in the most unexpected of places.
Last year was a time when able-bodied models walked the runway with models in wheelchairs; when trans models finally got their representation; and when models and celebrities of color finally used their platforms to be unapologetically loud about the disparity in the sartorial world. It felt like the fashion world actually made space for those who don't fit conventional molds, and by doing so, it also made room for more ideas, critical thinking, and overall examination of what the industry was previously lacking.
Though fashion still has a long, long way to go before being totally inclusive (if ever it will be), 2015 was certainly a breath of fresh air for those of us who have been chomping at the bit to finally see something different. These were some of the best moments for diversity in fashion last year. Prepare to be inspired all over again.
1. Maria Borges' Natural Hair
Model Maria Borges made Victoria's Secret Fashion Show history when she hit the runway sporting her natural hair. The Angolan stunner opted out of wearing a wig or extensions in favor of letting her natural curl shine, making a major statement for how beautiful black women's hair really is. Hopefully in the coming years, natural hair will be commonly celebrated instead of newsworthy. But for now, Borges' move was totally inspirational.
2. A Trans Modeling Agency Launching In NYC
This year saw the historic beginning of the very first all transgender modeling agency. The lack of representation for trans people in fashion motivated transgender model Peche Di, originally from Thailand, to take matters into her own hands. As Refinery29 reported, Di confessed to a colleague that her dream was to open a transgender modeling agency, and she got nothing but encouragement. In May 2015, she made Trans Models NYC official. Now, the agency has 19 models, including social media sensation Laith Ashley De La Cruz. Di's work is what they must mean when they say "be the change you want to see in the world."
3. Zendaya's Epic Comeback
At last year's Oscars, the gorgeous Zendaya Coleman wore her hair in dreads. Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic made some seriously misguided, tasteless comments about the look, saying that Coleman's hair "made [her] feel like she smells of patchouli." Co-host Kelly Osbourne was rude about it as well, adding "and weed" to Rancic's comment. Instead of popping off on Twitter, Coleman used the opportunity to educate. It was one of the smartest, most inspirational clap-backs we've ever seen.
And that, my friends, is how you come out on top (and teach a lesson in the process).
4. FTL Moda's Wheelchair Runway
While much of the fashion world continues to struggle with diversity on the runways, designer FTL Moda showed us what it looks like when you embrace it at its A/W New York Fashion Week show. The Italian label showcased amputees, wheelchair-bound models, and folks on crutches (alongside able-bodied models, no less). The show was epic, and a much-needed reminder that casting for diversity isn't really all that complicated.
5. Madeline Stuart's Runway Debut
In another amazing move from FTL Moda, the brand cast young model Madeline Stuart in its S/S 2016 runway show. And it wasn't Stuart's first appearance in the fashion world, either. She walked in Hendrik Vermeulen's Spring 2016 show as well, and became the face of EverMaya, an international luxury handbag line. It was a good year for Stuart — and one facet of a great year for diversity in fashion.
6. Hari Nef Getting Signed To IMG
Gorgeous trans actress, model, and writer Hari Nef was signed to the IMG agency in 2015, making it to its women's/talent board. She'd been turning heads on the runway for a while, but her contract with a mainstream agency like IMG was a huge step for representation in the fashion world. I can't wait to see what Nef serves us this year. She really is a queen.
8. H&M's Hijab-Wearing Star
In 2015, fast fashion line H&M featured its first hijab-wearing model in an advertisement, and the response was overwhelming. Her name is Mariah Idrissi, and she's a 23-year-old model who unapologetically wore her hijab during the shoot. It was part of H&M's "Close The Loop" campaign, which promoted sustainable fashion, all while spotlighting the idea that there simply are no rules in fashion — except to recycle your clothes, of course.
9. Jillian Mercado's Contract With IMG
2015 saw the rise of fashion star Jillian Mercado, a dope-looking model with Muscular Dystrophy. IMG represents models like Miranda Kerr and Gigi Hadid, so Mercado's addition to the family was unique and totally inspiring. In this video, she sent an amazing message about taking risks and loving your body, even if society tells you that you shouldn't.
10. Nykhor Paul's Fashion Industry Call Out
South Sudanese model Nykhor Paul has gorgeous dark skin, but she found that her look was being completely ignored in runway dressing rooms. Fed up with makeup artists being unprepared to work with dark skin tones, she wrote an amazing call-out on Instagram, imploring the very white fashion industry to do better with its dark-skinned models.
11. Rebekah Marine's Strut At NYFW
Self-described "bionic model" Rebekah Marine walked for FTL Moda at New York Fashion Week unapologetically showing off her prosthetic arm (along with the latest styles, of course). As a child, Marine was rejected from gigs all the time, according to The Daily Mail. However, times have clearly changed, and Marine has been part of a huge push for diversity and representation in fashion this year.
12. Eloquii's Amazing Lookbooks
Plus size retailer Eloquii has been stopping big girls in their tracks with their clothing, which offers the combination of chic business wear and casual styling (both woefully underserved in the plus size market). In 2015, the brand impressed fans even further, first by launching its extended size lookbook back in May, and then by casting magnificent model Emmicia for its fall extended size collection. Emmicia is a black woman over a size 24, making her a veritable fashion unicorn — and just the type of model we need to see more of.
13. Winnie Harlow's Arrival Onto The Fashion Scene
When Winnie Harlow was a kid, things were rough. According to CNN, she was diagnosed with vitiligo at age four, an incurable skin pigmentation disease that causes colorless patches on the body. She was bullied at school for her condition, so much so that she dropped out.
Fast forward to the last year: Harlow has showed them all that words and judgments can't stop her, appearing on season 21 of America's Next Top Model and subsequently becoming a huge social media star and signing on as the face of Spanish fashion label Desigual. She's an amazingly unconventional fashion "it-girl," and I can't wait to see what else she has in store for us.
Watching the landscape of the fashion industry change over the last year was like breathing in a much-needed breath of fresh air. Hopefully, the trend continues this year. If it does, one can only imagine how impactful this industry could be.