The ever-developing fashion industry wasn’t prepared for the unstoppable and beautifully unique model that is Winnie Harlow. With her distinctive features and no sign of slowing down, there’s no doubt that she is the future of fashion, and it’s time the fashion industry had a change.
Winnie Harlow was born with vitiligo, the incurable skin condition where pigmentation in the skin is lost, leaving behind patches of discolouration. At the age of 19, she became the world’s first model with the disease, inspiring others with vitiligo to not be ashamed or frightened to be who they are.
Getting her big break on America’s Next Top Model in 2014, Winnie Harlow, now 21, has become the face of Spanish designer Desigual, as well as being the first model with vitiligo on the runway at shows for Diesel, 2015’s NYFW and even being featured in Beyonce’s 2016 visual album, Lemonade.
Winnie Harlow was bullied throughout her school years, being labelled a “cow” and a “zebra”. Even though she told herself every day that she was beautiful and should not let the bullying affect her, she dropped out of school early, and rather than let the bullies get to her for the rest of her life, she turned to modelling, a hobby that she used to gain her confidence back.
Winnie Harlow for SHOWstudio. Photographer: Nick Knight
With Winnie Harlow being the face of Desigual and being a covergirl for Diesel, it’s a huge step forward in changing the face of the fashion industry. Not only has Winnie gained more confidence in her own skin, it has opened the door for others to appreciate their unique differences, “It shows me that times are changing and what wasn’t ‘accepted’ before is now becoming the norm. I love it!”.
Social media has a lot to do with the rise of Winnie; the positivity that she receives from platforms such as Instagram helps her stay motivated when she’s modelling, and gives her an extra confidence boost if she’s feeling self conscious. Supermodel, Tyra Banks scouted Winnie for America’s Next Top Model while scrolling through Instagram and stumbling across Winnie’s page.
What’s so important about Winnie Harlow becoming a major face in the fashion industry is that it is promoting every different type of beauty, and shows that there should be no real standard for what is considered ‘beautiful’.
Winnie Harlow for Desigual, 2015
In an interview, Winnie said that the most liberating things about being in the fashion business with her condition is “[showing] the fashion industry that beauty can come in different forms…I want to see different faces on the covers of magazines, the stars of movies, featured on billboards. It’s time we open the market up and embrace people from all walks of life.”
Living with the condition is hard, but Winnie is determined to strip away what is narrowly referred to as the standards of beauty, “I feel like the industry is very much opening up, widening their eyes…That’s what people are looking for, you know, something they can relate to, a real person,” she said in a 2015 interview.
In 2016, Winnie Harlow was involved in Beyoncé’s visual album, “Lemonade”. Beyoncé’s team invited Winnie to work on Lemonade; her iconic features playing a huge role in the empowering album. Alongside other famous faces like Zendaya, Amandla Stenberg and musical duo Ibeyi, Winnie Harlow is remembered for being a part of an all-empowering album, “[Beyonce] felt it was her responsibility to show black women themselves in the media” Winnie said in an interview about the album.
Winnie Harlow still from the visual album, Lemonade, 2016
2016 has a lot in store for Winnie Harlow. Every show and shoot that Winnie Harlow presents, she is breaking the barriers in the fashion industry, proving that beauty isn’t defined by perfection, it’s about being comfortable in your own skin and having the confidence in every thing that you do, no matter what people think.
By Ally Feiam