The work of the modern fashion influencer is ever evolving. Firmly embedded into the bedrock of the industry since the first crop of fashion bloggers — think Bryanboy or Susie Bubble — they were innovators, savvy enough to read the digital tea leaves, creating democratic content online and on burgeoning social channels that could be seen by anyone with a Wi-Fi connection. The early wave helped cement street style, sat front row in Paris and Milan and partnered with brands who also saw the writing on the wall.
As social media channels grew (hello Vine and TikTok) so did the cult of the influencer, backing sponsored content with both luxury and mass brands and selling out collections in a day with big-box retailers, like Nordstrom’s partnership with Something Navy’s Arielle Charnas.
But, like the business of retail, influencers and the content they produce are measured by their power to connect with their audience, a forever moving target.
A new crop of watchdog platforms, like Diet Prada, are boldly calling out creators they deem inauthentic in front of their own audience of now more invested followers who have weathered a pandemic and whose values have evolved. People are online even more, looking for brands and influencers to tell a richer story that includes sustainability, activism and wider and more diverse representation of the population. This more invested consumer has helped pave the way to next chapter in influencer, particularly from the LGBTQ community.
These individuals now influencing fashion and culture value the importance of living freely and taking the opportunity to experiment with their outward presentation, using social media as a tool for empowerment, information and creative inspiration.
With that in mind, WWD has gathered eight queer influencers who are redefining “influencer” and creating an impact in their own signature ways.
Name: Ady Del Valle
Notable Projects: Patrick Church fall 2019 and fall 2020 campaigns; HOMOCO 2020; Leak NYC (Louis Dorantes); Alex Yarally; EveryMan Project; DapperQ x Devon Yan NYFW 2019; FatTrunk Jeans; Sephora; The Phluid Project; Latin spokesperson for Cosmopolitan x Seventeen.
“I am a plus-sized model/advocate from Puerto Rico, supporting and representing the LGBTQ+ community but also my Latinx community in the work I do. I came out as queer in 2017; it has been the best decision I made for me. For the last two years I’ve been in self-discovery mode with my pronouns and identity and have a newfound sense of self. I know who Ady wants to be. I pull my inspiration from my personal journey when creating. My work and by taking up space allows people to identify and celebrate themselves, whether its gender, identity or race.”
Name: Cruz Rendon
Notable Projects: Recently collaborated with Rihanna and Amazon Fashion for the Savage x Fenty Vol. 3 collection as part of their digital campaign. Their favorite project has been working with the beauty app, Cherie, for their “Beauty Is Fluid” campaign to demonstrate that beauty is for everyone.
“Being queer and growing up in a conservative and Latino household wasn’t always easy. I was born on a small ranch in Mexico and grew up between Atlanta and Texas. Vaquero/cowboy culture has always been in my DNA and growing up in the south had a big influence in my life. It wasn’t until I left for college and started living on my own that I truly explored my queerness. Many layers of machismo from Mexican culture were deeply rooted in my thinking and it always got in the way of finding my personal style. After peeling back some of those layers, I finally felt comfortable wearing whatever I felt sexy and confident in. Sometimes it’s a little more feminine, sometimes it’s a little more masculine, sometimes it’s very androgynous — all of it feels like me. I look to rock stars and cowboys for inspiration, and when I think of the most iconic rock stars, they were breaking gender norms from the start.”
Name: Lia Clay Miller
Notable Projects: Over the last year, she has been putting together work for her first book. She says it is still in the rough stages, but the aim is to publish it in 2023.
“I grew up in the rural south, outside of Raleigh, N.C. A lot of my work deals with femininity and my approach to it as a trans woman. As of late, I’ve leaned away from the idea that media is a significant representation, and I don’t see my work as that, more so, the need for there to be more trans voices in photography. A part of our visual history is created through the work of photographers, and can be noted in the frame in which we see society. Primarily, this has been narrated by men, and rarely from the perspective of a person who identifies as transgender. It’s important to me to shift from being the subject to being the representative of our own frame. Fashion photography has been the metaphor in which we’ve viewed culture and society, and really great fashion photographers have a responsibility to reflect the times we’re in, and the issues we face.”
Name: West Dakota
Notable Projects: Model and creative partner with Parade, model for Collina Strada and GCDS.
West Dakota is a mixed-Filipinx (a mix of Filipino and Hispanic) drag artist, model and organizer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 2019, West was named Drag Queen of the Year at the Brooklyn Nightlife Awards. They are one of the organizers of the Brooklyn Liberation march, which has been described as the largest action for Black Trans lives in history. For this, West was a recipient of the Stonewall Vision Award in 2020, and named an inaugural Logo Legend.
Name: Jorge Gallegos
Notable Projects: David Beckham x H&M (2015); Mr Turk HOLA LA campaign (2018); Tumbleweed Boots “Keep Rollin” campaign (2020); Valentino Beauty Eye2Cheek and Rosso refillable lipstick campaign (2021); NUDD Lab #nuddsquad U.S. launch campaign (2021)
“Born and raised in Rioverde, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, I moved to the United States (Texas) after getting my bachelor’s degree in graphic design. In 2013, I accepted a social media manager position for a gay dating app (GuySpy); I also started writing for their blog, where we shared important news on LGBTQ issues. At the same time, I started my blog iammanchic.com. That job took me to New York, and somehow, my blog made it into GQ’s radar, and I was chosen for the Tallia Orange Blogger competition; that’s how my blogging journey started. And even though I didn’t win, the brand decided to include all contestants in their print campaign.
“At the beginning of my blogger career, I was trying so hard to “fit in” within the men’s wear scene, so I was dressing super dapper and going for that style because I thought that’s what the people wanted to see. But after leaving NYC in 2016 and going back to Texas, I started shifting my focus from men’s wear to lifestyle and LGBTQ travel and showcasing more of who I am.
“I consider myself as someone creative, fun and always thinking outside the box. I’m glad the fashion industry is embracing all types of content creators because, back in the day, I was afraid of being ‘too queer’ or ‘too risque’ on my posts out of fear of driving brand partnerships away. Nowadays, I share my personal queer experience and body without shame or fear because what I want my followers to see when they come to my page is someone confident with himself, who loves every single thing about him (flaws and all), in hopes that they start being unapologetically themselves and love themselves for that.”
Name: Caleb Mark Felix
Notable Projects: “2021 has been an incredibly exciting year for me. I started the year off filming a television show for the South African Afrikaans-language television network KykNet called ‘Ander.’ I played the first trans character on Afrikaans television. It was also one of the first shows in Africa to be centered around a leading trans character. I was then part of Converse’s 2021 global pride campaign.”
Caleb Mark Felix is a South African actor. He started his career performing on countless profound South African stages from the Artscape in Cape Town to the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. He has been trained in acting and classical voice at Stellenbosch University, recently graduating with a BA in drama and theater studies.
Passionate about telling stories of the marginalized communities, Caleb advocates for change, pushing for uncomfortable conversations to take place and pushing for inclusivity on screen. He says the future of film and television can be one that embraces and gives a voice for every human.
He is also a model that has been in local and international campaigns for brands such as Swatch, the Rain network and Converse, and has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Paper Magazine and Vogue Polska.
He can be seen on KykNet’s “Ander” and “Lycra & Petticoat,” which is streaming now on Showmax.
Name: Ziggy Mack-Johnson
Notable Projects: “I am currently working on my second ZGY collection, which I am very excited about. I also styled and made my creative director debut with a social campaign for a popular brand that I’m excited to share soon.”
A New York-bred and now California-based stylist, social media figure, creative and fashion enthusiast, Ziggy is known for sharing lifestyle, style and inspo photos, his bright personality and working with brands he stands beside while never hesitating to express himself freely. Ziggy brings the representation of being a Black queer into every project he works on, while also adding his own creativity.
Name: Jazzmyne Robbins
Notable Projects: “I have a project coming out very soon in partnership with Reebok about uniting women through their stories and experiences, which will be featured on Reebok’s social channels.”
“I was born and raised in the Midwest but understood from a very young age that I was different from the community around me. Whether it was my skin tone, my size, my hair or who I loved — I was just always different. For a while, I tried very hard to assimilate to what was around me and try ‘not to stick out’ but honey, I was sticking out whether I liked it or not. I came out when I was 17 years old, and again when I was 20, but something I would love to offer to the LGBTQIA+ community is grace and acceptance. When I was younger, it was very much a thing to ‘come out’ and announce yourself and be proud. And that’s cool and all if you want to do that, but if you are not in the place to do so, it’s OK! Whether for safety at home/school/in general, or you are still figuring yourself out, please know that you have a community here whether you are walking down the street in rainbows or maybe you’re the only one who knows you are a part of this community — either way, we got you.”