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Nykhor Paul
Nykhor Paul@nykhor via Instagram

The greatest fashion diversity moments of 2015

From landmark model signings to viral social media campaigns, there’s been some real progress in fashion this year

Lack of diversity within the industry has always been an issue, but it seems that this year, we’ve seen a significant push for greater representation. Between the popularity of the #DropThePlus movement and trans model Hari Nef signing with IMG, it appears that fashion is steadily becoming fairer. Below is a rundown of this year’s breakthrough diversity moments and here’s hoping for further advancement in 2016.


Last year, when Hari Nef beat the likes of FKA twigs and Kendall Jenner to win the Dazed Reader’s 100 list of game-changing creatives, it was evident that she was destined for big things. The young model helped to spark a trans revolution at NYFW AW15; walking for the likes of Vejas and Eckhaus Latta, her influence didn’t go unnoticed. In June, she followed in the footsteps of modelling greats Gemma Ward and Gisele Bündchen, and signed to the illustrious model agency IMG. Nef’s signing demonstrated a significant shift in industry’s attitudes towards trans models.

“Dear white people in the fashion world, it’s time you people get your shit right.” Disillusioned with the industry’s inability to cater towards models of colour, Nykhor Paul took to Instagram to air her grievances. The Sudanese model who was once the face of Louis Vuitton, claimed that she had to bring her own make-up products to shows. “It’s been a constant battle. Dealing with all the make-up issues, skin issues, hair issues, it makes you feel inadequate,” said Paul. The model sparked a debate which was largely positive, with exception of “a few people online.”

“I want to remove the stigma that people who look different can't be in the industry,” said Jillian Mercado, a 28-year-old model and fashion blogger who also happens to be a wheelchair user with muscular dystrophy. Back in 2014, she appeared in Diesel’s online-cast #DieselReboot campaign before signing to IMG earlier this year. Mercado has been a key player in fuelling the discussion surrounding the representation of people with disabilities in fashion. In an interview with Dazed, she said: “The challenge is to not to stop talking about it. This isn’t some kind of fad that will come and go, not while I'm around.”

As a UK size 12, Australian model Stefania Ferrario quickly became fed up with being labelled with the term plus-size. “I am a model FULL STOP. Unfortunately in the modelling industry if you’re above a US size 4 you are considered plus size, and so I’m often labelled a ‘plus size’ model. I do NOT find this empowering,” she wrote on Instagram. Ferrario created the hashtag with Ajay Rochester, former host of The Biggest Loser, in order to bring an end to the terminology which they feel is “damaging for the minds of young girls.”

After Ferarrio and Rochester started #DropThePlus, the hashtag was used by thousands on both Twitter and Instagram. Although the public support was great, the industry remained markedly quiet. That was until one of Europe’s biggest modelling agencies, Models 1, joined the cause. Photographer Michelle George produced a series of images featuring models from the agency’s Curve division, to prove their versatility: "What I want to show in this shoot is that that these girls are in fact naturally beautiful and can be used across the board, without being labelled as curvy or plus size.”

Like the aforementioned Jillian Mercado, Rebekah Marine is a 28-year-old model with a disability who made strides within the industry this year. Because she was born without a right forearm, Marine has an i-limb quantum prosthetic hand – but she hasn’t let her disability hinder her career plans. The model featured in Nordstrom’s 2015 anniversary catalogue and walked the SS16 FTL Moda show at NYFW. “It's so important to include more diverse models, because after all, nearly one in five people in America have a disability,” she said.

23-year-old Londoner Mariah Idriss made history this year, by becoming the first hijab-wearing model to feature in a H&M campaign. The youngster, who is of Pakistani and Moroccan heritage, was first discovered on Instagram. She appeared in the retailer’s Close the Loop video campaign which supported the launch of the brand’s new, sustainable initiative which encourages shoppers to recycle clothes at their stores. The film included other religious minorities – a Gulf Sheikh and a group of Sikh men also featured.

“Everyone has differences, and I feel like I stand for being different and accepting yourself,” said Winnie Harlow, a 21-year-old model with the skin condition vitiligo. After being rejected by every modelling agency in her hometown of Toronto, Harlow gathered scores of fans online, and has now made a name for herself within the industry. This year, she landed a spot alongside models Gryphon O’Shea and Charlotte Free in Diesel’s SS15 campaign, lensed by Nick Knight.

Considering the burgeoning success of models Hari Nef and Andreja Pejić, it was only a matter of time before a modelling agency which specifically represents trans people came into existence. Apple Model Management was established in Thailand and became the first ever agency to have a transgender division. Earlier this year, the agency opened another office in Los Angeles. “We see trans individuals as beautiful,” Apple Model Management’s director, Cecilio Asuncion, told The Advocate.


As creator of the #effyourbeautystandards movement, which is still making waves on Instagram, Tess Holliday has always opted to break the mould. At 5’5” and a UK size 24, Holliday made history back in January when she signed to London-based MiLK Model Management. She became the largest plus-sized model of her height and weight to join a mainstream modelling agency – quite the feat for a self-professed “body-acceptance activist,” who has rigorously challenged industry size ideals.