4 New Faces To Look Out For During New York Fashion Week


Luther Cherry

Years ago, the modeling industry used to be seen as extremely difficult to get started in. The sizing and height requirements limited thousands of people from ever becoming a model but that has thankfully changed in recent years. Now, pretty much anyone can be a model, and seeing yourself represented in ads and campaigns has become the norm. Black models in the fashion industry have faced their own unique challenges, especially if they’re not sample-sized. From makeup artists not getting your shade right to hairstylists ruining their natural hair, it’s safe to say that modeling is not always glamorous, especially for this specific group. Despite that, Black models have played a crucial role in pushing for diversity and inclusion.

JAG Models, founded in 2013 by Gary Dakin and Jacyn Sarka in New York City, prides itself on actually caring about its models. They aren’t asking models to lose weight for a job, or placing models in uncomfortable situations. This agency’s reputation is surrounded by buzzwords like diversity and inclusivity except they really mean it. JAG’s roster includes people of all backgrounds, sizes, and gender identities, helping redefine what it means to be a model.

We caught up with four up-and-coming models that are going to be on the runways this New York Fashion Week, about their experiences, whether or not the industry’s promises have been kept, and what parts of the industry have actually been changed below.

Danielle Mareka

ESSENCE.com: Do you feel any pressure to conform to a standard that is constantly changing, especially as a Black model? 

Danielle Mareka: I do feel pressure as a Black model to conform to a constantly changing standard, but this goes hand in hand with being a woman. I’ve decided that trends come and go, but I have to set my own standard by committing to simply honoring myself and my happiness.  

Do you feel the industry has made strides in regard to inclusivity and diversity?

The industry still has a ways to go when it comes to inclusivity and diversity. The fastest way to change goes well beyond the surface. Inclusion and diversity extend to hiring unique and diverse perspectives for positions of power. This doesn’t just go for the models, but it goes for the casting directors, brand executives, and other positions of power as well. And that’s usually where diversity and inclusion can be lacking.

What’s your favorite thing about being a Black model?

My favorite thing about being a Black model working today is the art of transformation. Although this is ingrained in my experience as a Black woman, being able to learn more about my hair and [its] versatility has been an extension of working in the modeling industry. I didn’t always know how to take care of my hair growing up or that it could take on so many different versions, so the fact that I’ve learned how to braid my hair and can experiment with different styles, has made me more confident and allowed me to embrace myself in full.

How have you seen the industry shift?

I’ve seen the industry expand in terms of who can be considered a model–especially with platforms like Instagram and TikTok increasing the potential to be discovered. I also think these platforms are a new version of representation in their own way. They can help make or break careers, and be a direct touch point to that brand or person you want to work with. 

Victoria Reath 

ESSENCE.com: Do you feel pressure to conform to a standard that is constantly changing, especially as a Black model? 

Victoria Reath: As a Black model I feel like there’s always pressure. There has always been a certain look projected on us, yet there are so many things that make us different. I am noticing a shift/change coming from other black models as it pertains to individualism and self-expression. Honestly, my generation as a whole is shaking the table. For me, it’s exciting, overwhelming, and a mixture of emotions that I have yet to understand, but all I know is that I am equipped to handle it all. 

Do you feel the industry has made strides in regard to inclusivity and diversity?

Absolutely, now more than ever we are seeing many different kinds of people in the media. In many ways, modeling embraces unconventional, rare, and quirky characteristics. However, most of the representation we see is the bare minimum. Unfortunately, we live in a society and navigate through an industry where aesthetics and conventional beauty are more important than the story. Although there is more representation, we are far from where we need to be in terms of inclusivity and diversity. We have a long journey ahead of us.

What’s your favorite thing about being a Black model?

My favorite thing about working as a Black model in this era is being able to connect with other Black models and creatives. The act of connecting with one another, watching each other grow, celebrating our successes, supporting one another, and knowing that we are the future is an extraordinary feeling that I am excited to be a part of.

How have you seen the industry shift?

I’ve been aware of the industry for a long time way longer than I’ve been a part of it. I can only speak [on] my perspective, and I think the industry has moved in a more positive direction overall. Yet, under the surface, there are serious concerns that need to be addressed.

Anai Akuei

Do you feel pressure to conform to a standard that is constantly changing, especially as a Black model? 

I personally feel that the standards of beauty and appearance constantly evolving can put a lot of pressure on anyone, especially a Black model. Throughout my life, I felt like society has othered me by continuously focusing on the color of my skin to ignoring me because of the size of my body. Because I cannot fit into someone’s standard of a Black model, I oftentimes feel the need to overperform, like I have to be “fitted to the gods” with perfect hair to be considered one. It’s a battle between feeling hyper-visible and invisible. Without the option to blend in, I’ve learned to embrace this and see it as an opportunity to inspire others to exist within their own standards. 

Do you feel the industry has made strides in regard to inclusivity and diversity?

Yes and no. Yes, because they have to, and no because I still think there’s a sense of tokenism and performativity when it comes to diversity. I remember being on a shoot in 2020 where there was another deep skin curve girl, we were elated. Even though we had different body types, skin tones, and hair, I think a part of that excitement came from the thought of the industry making space for plus-size Black women. Fast forward to my first New York Fashion Week at the castings, I found myself in rooms with other deep skin curve girls with varying looks. We shared mutual excitement over being considered for a major show, yet there was a lingering feeling that only one or none of us would book it, and we were right. 

What’s your favorite thing about being a Black model?

There are so many things that I love about being a model, I’m making art I never saw growing up. My favorite thing would be getting to contribute to a cultural change that broadens the idea of what inclusivity is.

How have you seen the industry shift?

I think there’s been a massive shift for the better. Models now have more of an opportunity to showcase sides of their identities that haven’t been typically seen or represented in the past. For example, there are more designers that advocate for larger sizing while still being stylish, sustainable, reasonably priced, and size-inclusive, and finding all the above is like finding a 4-leaf clover. While I’m glad that there’s more representation, it’s still urgent that we continue to challenge the standards of diversity because some days I want to give sexy boy, and other days I want to give sexy grandma, it’s called range. All jokes aside, there are as many ways to be beautiful as there are people on this planet. Why show the same ways 100 years in a row?

Adol Akuei 

Do you feel any pressure to conform to a standard that is constantly changing, especially as a Black model? 

Occasionally yes. Going against the grain is supposed to feel uncomfortable. However, knowing that I’m being portrayed for who I am eases that discomfort.

Do you feel the industry has made strides in regards to inclusivity and diversity?

I’ve definitely noticed a wider range of people these last few years and it’s a refreshing change to see. There’s still more work to be done, but I feel like we’re on the right path. 

What’s your favorite thing about being a Black model?

Getting to meet a wide variety of people and experiencing new things.

How have you seen the industry shift?

There are moments where the representation feels more performative than genuine, but I trust that the real ‘gon shine through.


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