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The runway at fashion shows is all about being ahead of the trends, but in many ways the fashion world still has a lot of catching up to do. There’s still a significant lack of diversity on catwalks, magazine covers, print ads, and in international campaigns, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t models fighting for their spot in an industry that has tried to make them invisible. One of those models is Aaron Philip, who just scored her first cover and her first interview with trailblazer Naomi Campbell. Takes one to know one.

Teen model Philip began her rise in the modelling world two years ago when she shared her first headshots. Tweeting “When I get scouted/discovered by a modeling agency, it’s over for y’all,” Philip set the tone for her career, which demanded her own space as a black, transgender model with cerebral palsy, which requires Philip to use a wheelchair.

Now 18, the Bronx-raised, Antigua-born model is making good on her promise, booking shows with some of the biggest fashion labels like H&M and ASOS, and posing for Refinery 29, Them, and NowThisNews. Starting her career as her own booker, agent, and manager, Philip was signed by Elite Models in 2018, making her the first black, trans, disabled model to sign with a major agency. Elite Models is an appropriate place for Philip to land, with the same company first signing Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, two women who helped break down barriers for black models (Campbell was the first person of colour to appear on the cover of French Vogue, and Banks was the first black woman on the cover of Sports Illustrated, GQ and the Victoria’s Secret catalogue). So it’s only fitting that for her first cover shot, in this case for Paper Mag, Philip is interviewed by one of her modelling idols, Naomi Campbell.

In the revealing and inspiring new interview, Philip and Campbell talk about the struggle they’ve endured to continually have to be better than their counterparts in order to get the same opportunities.

Explaining her motivation for being a model, Philip says that it was her love of fashion magazines and later her desire to make others feel represented that pushed her into modelling.  “I was always very aware of my identity as a person in a wheelchair. And I later became more aware of my transness eventually, but more than anything, I was hyper-aware of my disability. I realized there’s no one I see on TV or online or in fashion, on the stage that I love, looking like me,” said Philip. “And I knew that was a problem, because I knew inherently, there was nothing wrong with me. I know what people thought of disability and ableism, so I decided for it to become my journey when I was about 16, to actually become a model.”

Philip, who credits her family and their unwavering support for helping her navigate the fashion world, says that she’s continuing to work on blocking the negativity that comes with her new public persona. “I’m still improving on that majorly,” admits Philip. “My mom said I need to block and delete them because I feel like I often find myself putting so much energy into talking to these people when… it’s not that I don’t know that they’re horrible, evil bigots, it’s just that I feel like they are fully aware of what they’re doing and what they’re saying, and the rhetoric that they’re spewing, and the hatefulness that they display. I want to say something to them because it makes me angry, like how can you just act like that? But for the sake of myself and for the sake of preserving me — these people are miserable.”

Showing a maturity far beyond her years, Philip says that she hopes her success will help propel conversations that need to happen not only at fashion labels, but all the way up to corporate offices. “I guess there’s this inner thought to the industry that taking on people like myself who are disabled or in wheelchairs is so taboo, and almost dangerous, because they don’t know what to expect by putting someone on the runway like me. So I think that as much as I talk about it, it’s starting to reach the right ears. And I think people are paying attention and seeing what can be done if things like simple accommodations are met for people with disabilities, like ramps and elevators on these venues,” says Philip. “But also just making sure that you have these conversations in a corporate level so that within your companies, you say, ‘This is worth the investment-making.’ Because it’s no different from any other models. I want to see them erase that narrative where it’s like, ‘People with disabilities are so different to the point where they can’t do anything that an able-bodied person can.’ That’s so untrue as long as accommodations are met. It’s executing a vision.”

 

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swipe — closing @willienorrisworkshop last night – my first runway & first time closing a show. i’m honestly speechless for so many reasons… if you know me you know that Willie Norris is a deeply special and present person in my life both professionally and personally. he has endless heart, talent and grit. he is real as fuck. i love him with my whole heart. couldn’t be happier to have done this with him. my hands were shaking and my heart was beating out of my chest. i hope that my first show goes to show that runways and fashion collections with people like me in it can be possible and there should be more things and opportunities like this everywhere within the fashion industry/world. thank you. ❤️ @elitenyc @richiekeo 💖💖

A post shared by aaron philip (@aaron___philip) on

As for why representation matters, Philip eloquently and beautifully articulates exactly why she should be on the cover of a magazine. “Representation matters because everyone deserves to be objectively beautiful and be objectively desired. Everyone deserves to be acknowledged, respected, and valued, and seen as beautiful and desirable and alive for exactly who they are and what they love. Because people deserve to be themselves.”