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MODELS INSTAGRAM Hari Nef Drop the Plus Jarlos
Hari Nef, the trans model now signed to IMG, Stefania Ferrario, founder of Drop the Plus, and gay model couple JarlosImages via @harinef, @stefania_model and @jarlos420 on Instagram

The Instagram stars breaking fashion’s glass ceiling

As trans model Hari Nef signs to IMG, we look at the way the app is revolutionising the modelling industry

Yesterday, Hari Nef signed to IMG, making her the second transgender model on their books, and joining the ranks with models including Kate Moss, Gemma Ward and Gisele. “I can't verbalise how thrilled I am to be joining the @imgmodels family,” she wrote on Instagram last night, breaking the news. “Thanks are due to @ivanmbart [Ivan Bart, IMG’s Senior Vice President] for his generosity and vision ✨ #girlslikeus #staytuned #outhere.” Bart also posted about their signing, writing that “this girl's future is so bright, the guys got knocked out behind her!”

While Tumblr favourites like Mike Bailey Gates have been appearing on runways and in ads for a while, Nef's signing came after a season where NY underground labels including Eckhaus Latta, Vejas and VFiles used trans models in their shows, seeking to represent the gender diversity of their downtown communities. "Welcome gypsies and genderless," bellowed the MC at Gypsy Sport's show, and it could have been the motto of the season. As Nef told us at the time: “Trans folks are way too strong, beautiful, intelligent, and powerful to stay unseen and unpaid for much longer. This week was a snowflake on the tip of an iceberg.”

We've all been witness to the power of social media being used for good: just last week, a man mocked online for dancing in public was flown to LA for a party in his honour. Now followers have levelled the playing field of an industry regarded as insular and elitist. Myla Dalbesio, the model whose image for Calvin Klein underwear recently caused a stir after it was described as plus size by the media, explained to Elle the way that agencies have started to clock on to the potentials of Instagram fame. "A modelling agent spoke to me frankly, putting concrete numbers into place. ‘10 thousand [followers] is a drop in the bucket,’ he said. ‘At 100 thousand you become a contender. 500 thousand means you're really in the game. At one million, that's when people will really start to take you seriously.’”

“Trans folks are way too strong, beautiful, intelligent, and powerful to stay unseen and unpaid for much longer. [New York Fashion Week] was a snowflake on the tip of an iceberg” – Hari Nef

But that seems a little pessimistic – after all, we’re not all Jenners, Hadids or Smiths with LA mega-mansions providing the perfect backdrop for our selfies. Following is about aspiration, and while some aspire to Cartier Love bracelets or private yacht rides at Cannes, there’s a more Tumblr-minded generation who connect to realness, to owning who you are with no apologies – something Nef excels at, she’s sharing pictures from fashion week or the dentist’s chair. Agencies have caught onto this too – recognising that the power of an individual with 10,000 devoted followers can be just as strong as someone with a load of voyeuristic onlookers. Stefania Ferrario, the model who started the Drop The Plus movement that rallied to end the term plus size, was recently taken on by Models 1. Jarlos, the duo who spoke to Dazed about the homophobia they had experienced in the industry made history by being the first gay couple to be taken on as a pair. “The guy that scouted me online immediately told me his agency wouldn't sign me because they ‘don't work with gay men,’” explained John Tuite, one half of Jarlos. “In any other industry that would be a lawsuit.”

Elsewhere, street casting agencies like Lorde Inc are scouting online, seeking to represent a more diverse range of models – like Londoner Donnika Anderson, who’s modelled for designers including Sadie Williams. “Through the Internet people all over the world are getting more acquainted with all types of people, faces and identities and starting to realise how insular fashion is,” founder Nafisa Kaptownwala told us. “People online are able to create pretty big followings for themselves and that gains the attention of fashion’s opening up the possibilities of who gets to participate in fashion.” Followers relate to people like Nef, Jarlos and Ferrario, all of whom are breaking down barriers by being themselves. 

While Nef may be shattering the industry’s glass ceiling, she's aware of how much work there is still to be done for trans women in fashion. Speaking after being voted number one on the Dazed Readers' 100, she explained that, "As far as #trans goes, I'm easily understood. I'm white, I'm from a first world country, my identity as a woman aligns within a gender binary that most people take for granted...My hope for 2015 is not just that more trans stories are told, but different kinds as well.” That’s something we can all get behind, and not just in terms of trans casting. Let’s hope that agencies are changing their attitudes across the board – whether on gay models, racial diversity or the inclusion of women like Ferrario. With followers putting their weight behind today’s online stars, the industry is realising that fashion should be about freedom and self-expression, no matter what your gender identity, sexuality or size is.