The Top Activists in Fashion: 2016 Edition

The intelligent souls who spoke truth to power this year.

What a year 2016 has been. With the election of Trump, Brexit, the expansion of prejudice and terror attacks, and the devastating situation in Syria to name a few things, it's safe to say the world has taken a few lot of steps back in the wrong direction this year.

The fashion industry is no stranger to backward steps, or at least an absence of forward steps; the lack of diversity, body inclusion, and perceived ideals of beauty and 'perfection' still ring true. But hear us when we say, there is still hope for the industry (and humanity) yet, when we hear about our peers who are forging a more inclusive, socially conscious climate for the future generation. There are those of us who see the need to improve the state of fashion, and Couturesque has highlighted 16 of these top activists who made their marks in 2016. We suggest that you read on and restore some of your faith in time for 2017.

This year model, style icon, and general cool gal, Adwoa Aboah, set up Gurls Talk, a program through which young girls and women can openly and safely talk about issues affecting them as females. After years of struggling with addiction and depression, the importance of her organization sends a pertinent message to girls everywhere. See Adwoah talk all things feminism and empowerment in her recent series with i-D.

Nura Afia made CoverGirl history by being the first brand ambassador to wear a hijab. Nura is an American beauty vlogger who started posting Youtube videos in 2011. Today she has over 200,000 subscribers and more than 300,000 followers on Instagram.  While continuing to post daily makeup inspo, Nura will also be taking part in CoverGirl’s upcoming “Lash Equality” campaign.

In 2016, Hari Nef has become one of the most outspoken and powerful activists in fashion. This year she landed her own cover for the Wonderland Fame Issue and booked campaigns with H&M and Hugo Boss. Hari Nef is a favourite of the people and uses her social media as a constant source of activism for LGBTQ+ rights.

Charli Howard captured the fashion industry’s attention this year when she called out her former modelling agency when they dropped her for being "too fat." People were outraged by her story and since then, Charli has been signed by Muse Models in New York and has become one of the most outspoken body positivity activists of 2016. Charli is a co-founder of the All Woman Project, a video, editorial and social media based project aiming to deconstruct and challenge the preconceived ideals of beauty construed by current media.  Look out for our work with Charli coming soon in 2017...

Jaden Smith has gone from The Karate Kid to one of the coolest kids on the block; over the past year, he’s captured fashion’s attention with his gender fluid style and even starred in the Louis Vuitton Womenswear campaign for spring 2016. To top off his year, Jaden won this year’s British Fashion Award for New Style Icon alongside his sister Willow. In his acceptance speech, Jaden thanked the fashion industry for giving this award to two young African-Americans with dreads and expressed his wishes that other industries would adopt a similar level of diversity and acceptance.

Model and activist, Ebonee Davis, used her social media influence to address racial injustice in the fashion industry and beyond. Davis penned a personal letter for Harper's Bazaarspeaking openly and directly about her role as a black woman in fashion and the pressure to conform to a European standard of beauty.  She wrote: “When I say ‘love black people as much as you love black culture,’ I mean not just including black people in fashion when it is deemed cool, or acceptable. When I started modelling five years ago there weren’t nearly as many natural models as they are now. They’re working, I’m seeing them in magazines, I’m seeing them in videos, on runways, and I think that is incredible, and I hope for that to continue.”

We already knew this girl was a quadruple threat (she sings, dances, acts, and is a major style influencer). In 2016 alone, Zendaya became one of the newest faces of CoverGirl, launched her new fashion line, Daya by Zendaya, which caters to sizes 2-22, and was named one of Glamour's Women Of The Year. She has also become the ultimate activist this past year: raising her voice on body image, beauty standards, and racial inequality. “You have to learn to appreciate yourself and the power you hold,” she said on Twitter. “Whatever is inside of you—your soul, your power—find it. See it. Respect it. Protect it. And use it.”

Speaking of CoverGirl, James Charles made history this year as the first male spokesperson for the company. After paying his dues on YouTube one flawless tutorial at a time, he became an internet sensation with his mega-glam school picture retakes, which is also how he was discovered by CoverGirl.

2016 saw the rise of the #GirlGaze movement, and photographer Petra Collins - through her breathtaking Instagram feed and bevvy of cover shoots - continued to rise as a fashion industry favourite throughout the year. Her photographic eye is uniquely her own - capturing the female experience in a raw, real way with a effortless daydream glow. Even when modelling for brands like Gucci and Levi's, Petra's strong aesthetic never waivers.

This year, Willow Smith continued to demolish boundaries. She took her space age cosmic style to Chanel as muse and the face of their eyewear campaign, dropping track after track of mind bending environmentally, socially, and politically conscious music via Soundcloud, and along with her brother (fellow top activist Jaden), continuously worked to promote diversity within the fashion industry.

This year saw a major (though not yet a complete) shift in body acceptance and positivity within the fashion industry. Barbie Ferreira has to be one of the models who has changed the game the most. She starred in campaigns for American Eagle and Aerie - unretouched - however, it's her Instagram feed that continues to have an influence with its unfiltered images and messages of self-love and positivity telling Glamour, "Social media opened up basically every opportunity for me because, traditionally, I wouldn't be thought of as a model. Since people organically started following and relating to me, I proved [to brands] that yes, I can be a model even though I might not traditionally be what you guys think is marketable." 2017 better watch out.

All eyes were on Deddeh Howard, model, medical student, and fashion blogger, when she presented her genius photo series that featured herself recreating major ad campaigns that had originally cast white models. The point of it of it all was to highlight the modelling industry's lack of realistic, diverse representation.  We agree when Deddeh writes that "the next generation of black women need to see themselves represented."

Everyone had something to say about the recent U.S. election, including model Cameron Russell who took a public stand and wrote an open letter to the fashion industry after Donald Trump’s win. Her letter urges the industry to “(1) HIRE, (2) PAY WELL, and (3) LISTEN to women, to people with disabilities, to non-binary, queer, and LGBT people, to people of color, and, especially, to women of color” as well as changing casting in shows, putting people of colour on magazine covers and making sure those made vulnerable by Trump's policies will have permanent jobs. Cameron’s letter translated anger into action, and reenforced the idea that even the fashion industry has a role to play in creating safe spaces.

This year during New York Fashion Week: Men's, blogger and producer Hannah Stoudemire announced publically that she would not be attending any shows due to the fact that “no major designers or houses expressed any condolences to the black lives lost or have acknowledged that black lives matter.” Instead, she coordinated a BLM protest out front of the venues, telling Fashionista, "I just want the fashion industry and people in general — the majority of the people represented here today — to acknowledge us. I say this time and time again: they acknowledge black culture, yet they use it to their advantage."

Tess Holliday is the model and activist behind the #effyourbeautystandards movement on Instagram, with Vogue Italia naming her one of the top six plus sized models in the world this year. Today she only continues to fight for body-equality in the fashion industry, telling New York magazine: "When young girls Google the term 'model,' the first women that pop up are Gigi and Kendall.  I think it’s really important for all young girls to see themselves represented in fashion so they don’t feel alone in the world.”

Read more: How Gen-Z took over the fashion industry this year, plus this is the best career advice we received from our favourite fashion journalists.

Couturesque's Fashion Features Editor Xenia Klein is a blogger, writer, and fashion student from London.  You can follow her day-to-day adventures and OOTDs on Instagram and read all of her work over here.

Autumn Breeze is our Fashion Market Editor.  In her spare time, she is a writer and artist who enjoys 35mm film photography, bingeing on Game Of Thrones, James Dean films, obnoxiously over-using the dog filter, and long walks on the beach.

Couturesque's Junior Fashion Contributor Clio is a fashion nerd who loves binge watching shows on Netflix and buying one-too-many pairs of shoes. And when she's not doing any of that, you can catch her on Instagram trying her hardest to be like Alexa Chung.

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I founded Couturesque Magazine when I was 15 years old because like many of my peers, I felt ignored and talked down to by all of the other teen fashion publications out there. I figured that at the end of the day, the people who knew the most about my generation, were the people who belonged to it. The fashion industry is becoming increasingly dependent on the creativity of younger voices who challenge the status quo and make us rethink what we wear and why we wear it. And that is exactly what Couturesque set out to celebrate - authenticity, intelligence, originality, and diversity... in other words, what makes Gen-Z tick. Fast-forward to 2016 and we now have a staff of more than a dozen fashion distruptors contributing to our daily content from all around the globe, 100K+ readers following us from Toronto to New York, to London, Copenhagen, Berlin, Tokyo, and Tel Aviv, and a plethora of big-wig industry fans and collaborators. But what matters to us the most is the responsibility that our publication has to make a positive impact in the lives of those who come across it - we stand against retouching our photoshoots and we stand for sharing the beautiful, individual, complex voices of everyone, especially those who feel marginalized by mainstream fashion media. We hope that you love our site as much as we do and that you take the time to follow us (Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Pinterest / Tumblr / Snapchat / YouTube) throughout our journey to make fashion accessible to the powerful young adults of today.

Tia Elisabeth Glista
Editor in Chief