Six Indigenous Models On Finally Feeling Seen in Fashion

When Gabriela Hearst debuted her new spring 2022 collection during New York Fashion Week in September, her inclusive presentation stood out. For starters, Hearst collaborated with two Navajo weavers, Naiomi Glasses and TahNibaa Naataanii, to craft some of her new woven dresses and trenches. But she also cast a stellar lineup of Indigenous models to walk in the show, including Quannah Chasinghorse, Celeste Romero, and Valentine Alvarez. The Indigenous representation was not lost on the many fresh new faces backstage. “I really never saw Indigenous folks up on billboards or at fashion week, representing major commercial brands,” says Cherokee Jack, an Aniyunwiya model who walked the runway and held back tears after the show. “Now, kids on the rez, and even Indigenous folks in the city, can now look and see that it’s possible.”

Hearst aside, this past fashion month overall proved to be a real turning point in the industry in terms of properly representing Native American and Native Mexican models. At shows like Prabal Gurung and Gucci, rising Oglala Lakota model Denali White Elk walked alongside breakout stars like Chasinghorse, who proudly sports her traditional Yidįįłtoo face tattoos and has fast emerged as one of fashion’s favorite new top models. Together, these Indigenous models are slowly making a name for themselves in an industry that has long overlooked their talent, and forming a unique support system behind the scenes. “It’s amazing having friends who have similar experiences to you, and who are Indigenous and look like you,” says Alvarez, who has walked for Gucci, Valentino, and Chloé. “I see myself in them, and you feel that love and support. We all want each other to succeed and flourish.”

Of course, Indigenous models have always been around, especially at large-scale events like the annual Santa Fe Indian Market fashion show. But many high fashion labels are only now catching on, as companies continue to take a hard look at how they can be more inclusive. While some Native models are represented by top agencies like IMG and Ford, Indigenous modeling agencies, like Supernaturals Modelling, are also making them easier to find than ever before.

Even better than being on the runway, however, is the chance to have a global platform. Many of these models use their social media pages to educate people about their heritage and raise awareness around issues in their communities. Chasinghorse was an environmental activist long before she got into modeling. As she’s become more well-known, she continues to use her social pages to shed light on crucial issues affecting her Indigenous people. Other models, like Jack, do the same, and feel a duty to do so. “My mom always taught me to speak up,” says Jack. “There are so many people that have never met a Native person before. It’s everyone’s individual privilege and responsibility to educate themselves, but I’m in this position where I can share and relate my own experiences. I’m willing to be patient with people and have the same conversation 100 times.” He and many other models also simply want to spotlight the beauty of their culture, too. “Indigenous beauty hits different,” he says.

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