Cover story

Stronger Together


The Model Mafia

The Model Mafia: Meet Fashion’s Most Game-Changing Women

Over the past year the message that has come through loud and clear is this: when women support each other, we win. Setting a very fashionable example is the game-changing MODEL MAFIA. Wearing FW18’s must-have coats, some of the group’s members talk to us about change, challenges and the importance of community

Photography Carlota GuerreroStyling Tracy Taylor
Cover Stories

The most positive message to come through following the past year’s revelations of workplace abuse across almost all industries? That when women unite to support one another, we are more powerful, and happier, too. The greatest example of this in fashion is the Model Mafia, created with the intention of unifying and supporting one of the industry’s most isolated and vulnerable workers. And while it was the brainchild of long-time campaigners Cameron Russell and Áine Rose Campbell, there is no ‘leader’ of the group; it is a community of equitable members, each with their own causes and passions, who want to promote activism and fairness within the fashion industry. To honor these incredible women, we gathered as many of them as we could and asked them why Model Mafia is so essential to the industry – and what changes they most want to see next.

CAMERON RUSSELL Co-founder of Model Mafia

“The activism I understand is the project of shifting culture. The really fabulous thing about fashion is that we’re culture makers and we’re a community, and it is those strengths that we can lean into to take the risks that are going to evolve the world around us. The Model Mafia has given me a lot of energy around what is possible; it’s given me so much hope and optimism, but I don’t think it’s particularly to do with the fact that we’re all models; it’s the fact that when we organized our own community – people whose experiences and whose challenges are shared – we built trust, and as we began to see each other’s strengths and where we need to support each other. We became a supercharged, leaderful group with a lot of camaraderie surprisingly quickly. I could only help bring the #MeToo movement to fashion because I had a big network of trusting models and we could take risks together. Where these models are coming from and what they want to say and do in the world is so profound, and together we have the platform to raise up each other’s stories.” @cameronrussell

ÁINE ROSE CAMPBELL Co-founder of Model Mafia

“As freelancers, modeling can be isolating. The Model Mafia is a community that has created strong bonds between its members and a sense of belonging. There is a generous heart at the center of the group and we move together to make the world a better place. There is power in numbers and what makes us unique is our high visibility on social media – when we rally around a cause, we can reach millions and effect change. I hope that we will be able to take part in more activations so that we can quickly respond to issues online as a group, or turn up to a march in large numbers. I hope that these actions will help push for a fairer and safer fashion industry and a more equitable world.” @ainerosecampbell

EBONEE DAVIS Activist for the representation of black models

“My life has changed completely since my first Model Mafia meeting. For too long, [models’] human rights have been trampled on and we have been silenced within the industry. It’s time for us to reclaim our power, reclaim our autonomy and have a say in the images that are being created, and Model Mafia gives us that opportunity. My mistreatment as a black model is what attracted me to the group, but my message has evolved. Although I am still very vocal about the need for knowledgeable makeup artists, hairdressers, casting directors and agents, my primary focus has become healing the self-image of black girls and women. I’d like to be a representation of a fully integrated, multi-dimensional black person, something I was conditioned to believe could not exist.” @eboneedavis

LEYNA BLOOM Campaigner for trans models

“The worst thing about the fashion industry is its lack of diversity, but we’re doing our part to change that for the next generation. I plan to keep pushing myself and other trans folk and anyone who is facing adversity in the industry and life to be our best and beyond. I’m so happy to have our strong and supportive community, where there’s a safe space to have healthy, positive discourse. It really adds to my armor knowing that I have women who back me up and are rooting for me while I root for them in return. Since the very first meeting, I have felt more confident about speaking up and having the courage to go after what I believe is right.” @leynabloom

NIMUE SMIT Ambassador for the Model’s Health Pledge

“Modeling can be a very lonely profession. Everyone needs a community, a place where people understand what you’re dealing with. Model Mafia offers that and more. I wish I’d had it when I started out; there’s so much industry knowledge that gets lost, instead of passed onto the new faces. Don’t underestimate a network of ‘models’; they are entrepreneurs, social change-makers, programmers… I learn [something] every time Model Mafia meets up – it’s better than any old boys’ network.” @nimuesmit

Top image clockwise from top right: Nimue Smit wears coat by Sies Marjan and boots by The Row; Cameron Russell wears coat by Sandy Liang and boots by Tom Ford; Áine Rose Campbell wears coat by 16Arlington and boots by The Row; Leyna Bloom wears coat by Petar Petrov and boots by Tom Ford; Ebonee Davis wears coat by Sonia Rykiel and boots by Tom Ford. This image L-R: Renee Peters wears coat by Monse; Sinead Bovell wears coat by Sea; Inga Eiriksdottir wears coat by Sonia Rykiel; Gelila Bekele wears coat by Vivienne Westwood

RENEE PETERS Sustainability activist

“Model Mafia has provided a space for community that was missing among models – instead of viewing each other as competition, it’s helped us value each other as true friends and champions of each other’s efforts. I’ve been supported and encouraged to pursue my passions as an environmentalist; gone to the climate march in Washington, D.C.; created social media campaigns that have reached millions of people; hosted my first sustainable-fashion event; been on countless panel discussions as a thought leader; presented at MoMA; and got my first job outside of modeling with the Rainforest Alliance, helping them with their social media. Fashion has enormous power to influence the world, and I envision it doing so for good – the good of people and the planet.” @renee.elizabethpeters


“Modeling is a workplace without colleagues or systems of support and Model Mafia has fundamentally restructured it. It’s taken the voice of the minority and made it the majority. I host a monthly event about the intersection of business, technology and the future, and provide consulting to young entrepreneurs building their own start-ups. Model Mafia has been an incredible system of support. It isn’t just a group; it’s a force, a movement, a lifestyle. It is a unified voice of the change that we want to see in the industry and the messages that we want to bring to the world about inclusivity, equality and safety in the workplace.” @sineadbovell

Back rows, L-R (standing): Naomi Shimada wears coat by Michelle Mason; Inga Eiriksdottir wears coat by Victoria Beckham, (sitting) Brana Dane wears coat by Michelle Mason; Cleo Abram wears coat by Max Mara. Middle row (standing): Leyna Bloom wears coat by Michael Kors Collection; Sinead Bovell wears coat by Alaïa; (sitting) Gelila Bekele wears coat by J.Crew. Front row (sitting): Áine Rose Campbell wears coat by Stand; Ebonee Davis wears coat by Max Mara

INGA EIRIKSDOTTIR Campaigner for model diversity

“Having been in the industry for going on 20 years, I have experience to share with younger models. But it works both ways: Model Mafia also keeps me informed about a great number of issues that models have applied their energies to, like health, environmental impact and sustainability. It feels so great when things are accomplished, the bar is raised or some issue has been moved forward. There is only so much you can do alone; together, anything is possible.” @ingaerla

GELILA BEKELE Campaigner for the education of young women

“It’s motivating to be surrounded by like-minded women; it encourages me to continue working hard and it’s validation that my voice matters. Everything is connected – my battles to have equal gender opportunities in rural parts of Ethiopia are the same as my battles in the west. That’s why our industry has to recognize the global impact it has on the environment and ensure that more diversity is being represented. But fashion is constantly reinventing itself, and more young people will take the lead in creative power, so I have high hopes.” @gelila.bekele

Featuring coats by Koche, Casasola, Loewe, Rejina Pyo, Acne Studios, Bassike, Jonathan Simkhai, Rokh, The Row, Sea. To find out more about these Model Mafia members, click the link at the end of the story

KAYE LI TAYLOR Part of the Model Alliance

“As a model I always yearned for community, friendship and a support system. Who better to understand the ups and downs of our jobs than fellow models? Most importantly, I wanted to be a part of a group that was as enthused as me to stand up against injustices that we all face, and tackle things like the #MeToo movement, climate justice awareness and calling out racism. No matter what our skin color, we should all have access to opportunities. And our jobs should not include abuse. The group has definitely made me more of an aware, confident and humble model. I’m no longer afraid to speak up and make a stand for myself and others because I know that I have a model-hood fighting with me.” @kayelitaylor

AUSTRIA ULLOA Campaigner for diversity in the fashion industry

“I always felt connected to fight for different causes, but it was very difficult to find support in [modeling]. When you have people who think like you, you feel safer and more confident, but the real power is when we are together, when we come for the things that we believe in. Being a part of Model Mafia has made me feel stronger because I have learned that it is our responsibility to use our voice, not only our image, and that I have a tool that can make changes happen. We can see changes happening now in the fashion industry that in my opinion could go a lot faster: the radical change of how beauty is stereotyped, for example, and the equality of races and cultures.” @austriaulloa

MAYA MONÈS Campaigner for trans and non-binary models

“My personal motivations for being a part of the Model Mafia are driven by my yearning for the representation and liberation of black and brown trans femmes. I want to see more diversity – and I don’t mean showcasing one or two slender black/brown cis women, but folks from all walks of life who exist at varying intersections. Secondly, I want to see models treated as artists and collaborators. I am tired of being dehumanized and made to feel like I am easily replaceable when I am quite the opposite. Model Mafia gives us much needed room to take charge on the changes we’d like to see.” @br0nz3_g0dd3ss

L-R: Kaye Li Taylor wears coat by Harris Wharf London; Austria Aulloa wears coat by The Row; Maya Monès wears coat by Max Mara; Jess Perez wears coat by Mansur Gavriel; Shivani Persad wears coat by A.P.C.

JESS PEREZ Advocate for fair pay in fashion

“The fact that anyone in our industry has to worry about either not getting paid in a timely fashion or at all is ridiculous. I helped to champion the Freelance Isn’t Free Act in New York City and also recently testified at City Council for a bill that would extend workplace sexual harassment and discrimination laws to freelancers. But there is power and strength in numbers and it feels really nice to be around models in a non-competitive environment. Often we’re made to feel weak and vulnerable – Model Mafia allows us to feel powerful as a collective whole.” @jesslperez

SHIVANI PERSAD Host of podcast More Than Model

“I have always craved a community of models that wanted to make a difference outside of fashion. Now I’m really trying to change the idea of what it means to be a model, and Model Mafia is helping me do that. It feels great to have so many women around who stand up for what they believe in and don’t take s**t from anyone. We’re over being silent about injustice and we’re using our platforms to create awareness – that’s pretty damn powerful.” @liveshiv

L-R: Katharina Rembi wears coat by L’Agence; Zuzanna Krazatala wears coat by Beaufille; Chloe Hayward wears coat by RŪH; Mari Malek wears coat by Galvan; Kenza Fourati wears coat by Sid Neigum; Hartje Andresen wears coat by Gareth Pugh; Erin Williams wears coat by Ellery
Clockwise from right: Molly Bair wears coat by Gabriela Hearst; Meisha Brooks wears coat by Max Mara and boots by Calvin Klein 205W39NYC; Naomi Shimada wears coat by Attico and boots by Tibi

NAOMI SHIMADA Advocate for model diversity

“The modeling industry is almost completely unregulated. We need to stay organized to be able to support and protect one another. I feel positive about the changes that have happened in terms of casting, but I now want to talk about what goes on behind the camera and up and down the chain in the fashion industry. In 15 years, I’ve shot with just two black photographers – that’s a problem. We need to move past what diversity means just in terms of casting, otherwise it’s tokenism.”@naomishimada

MEISHA BROOKS Champion of models’ rights

“I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Harvard and I model and act full-time. I hope to use my diverse background to create a platform where we can inspire others to challenge themselves and pursue their passions – even if they reside in two seemingly conflicting worlds. I’m passionate, too, about the Respect Program headed by the Model Alliance, a research and policy organization that champions models’ rights. We need comprehensive measures and legal avenues to ensure the safety of the often underage and financially vulnerable individuals who are being exploited throughout the industry. Knowing that I am able to tackle any problem alongside those who understand and want to be an ally is empowering and comforting.” @meishabrooks

MOLLY BAIR Sustainability activist

“The fashion industry is a wonder space for innovation, creativity and global human connection, yet generally fails to focus or even consider the environmental impacts of its actions. There must be a major shift towards sustainability. I’m a relatively new member of Model Mafia and I’ve found it very beneficial to meet like-minded models. I’m hoping to connect them to an environmental organization that I work with, Pure Earth, which facilitates clean-ups in the poorest communities around the world while educating them about future pollution prevention, and empowering them through promoting local businesses.” @molllsbair

Find out more about the Model Mafia members featured in this story here.

Squad Goals

Press play to go behind the scenes of PorterEdit’s incredible 34-strong cover shoot, starring the game-changing Model Mafia

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