Meet Model Iskra Lawrence, Plus-Size Fashion's Newest It Girl Turned Fashion Editor
By Lauren Chan
As the spotlight on plus-size fashion gets bigger and brighter, influencers seem to be coming out of the woodwork every day. (Insert clapping hands emoji!)
Let's recap: To kick off November, Rebel Wilson launched her first collection with Torrid. Just last week, Ashley Nell-Tipton became the first plus-size designer to win Project Runway. This week, the December issue of Glamour hits newsstands and celebrates emerging brands making waves like Universal Standard and Mei Smith, which cater to chic women of all sizes. Now, we're calling the next major news in the field, model Iskra Lawrence.
Does that name sound familiar? You may recognize her from the unretouched Aerie campaigns, her social media presence, and as a NEDA (National Easting Disorders Association) spokesperson. Most recently, she's been appointed as the managing editor of Runway Riot, the re-designed Styleite.com being spearheaded by serial entrepreneur Dan Abrams. She's received a ton of press following the announcement, including features on Refinery29, Esquire, Fashionista, and Maxim, with the latter gushing, "Lawrence is both gorgeous and hilarious. It's [her] inner beauty, sense of humor, and her inspirational message about body pride that make us thrilled to announce she'll be leading the charge." (Of course, we couldn't agree more!)
So what exactly is the site she'll be taking charge of and why will it solidify Lawrence's place as an industry influencer? In their own words, Runway Riot is, "a style and fashion site for an underrepresented and often under-appreciated majority of women in America who wear larger sizes. [It will feature] editorials with women of all sizes, shoppable content via Reward Style, video series with Lawrence, originally reported features, investigative stories, and hard hitting commentary on the fashion industry." What's more? It's looking to shake things up with talk about "discriminatory pricing, relegating larger clothes to the storage section of department stores, and stylists who still think [models] should squeeze into smaller sizes."
Ahead of the launch, the model stopped by Glamour to chat all things modeling, social, and her new role at Runway Riot. Fair warning: you're about to be seriously inspired. Here's our exclusive talk with Lawrence...
Glamour: How did you get into modeling?
Iskra Lawrence: I started when I was 13 years old by entering Elle Girl's search for the next supermodel in the U.K. I got to the finals and was signed by Storm. But every time I went to the agency, they would measure my hips. Every time I did a show, I would hear, "Her hips are too big." So, when I was 15 going on 16, and they said I was going to have to lose weight because my hips were already 36 inches and models should be a 34. I got dropped from that agency and I went back to the drawing board with small commercial modeling.
Then I heard about plus-size modeling when I was 18. At the time, no agency would take me on because they said I was too small at a U.K. 12 [US size 8]. I went back to Models One and said, "I've worked with all of these lingerie clients and I can bring you new clients." And I got signed. Lesson learned: if you work hard and if you're willing to bang down those doors and tell them that they need you because you've got something different to give, people will listen.
Glamour: Since making the move to New York shortly after that, landing the unretouched campaign with Aerie has been your big break. What has your experience with the brand been like and why do you think it led to a turning point in your career?
IL: It's all about the message that Aerie has — and the people that work behind the brand. Some of them have daughters that have had eating disorders and they're really passionate about that cause. When I started working for them it changed my life and I wanted to help change other girls lives through their campaigns.
I've also used my social media to do that. I very much promote untouched images on there when I can and talk about it. I started getting all of this feedback from young girls in my direct messages and comments and now I screen shot every single one and reply to every single girl.
Glamour: What's the most memorable or impactful comment or question you've received?
IL: It was at the NEDA Walk when I had a mom and sister grab me and hug me and say, "My daughter passed away, my sister passed away and what you're doing is changing the world and we're so happy to see more models like you." I take this really seriously. I genuinely wake up, look at my vision wall in front of my bed and ask myself what I'm going to do that morning to try to change these girls lives and make sure nobody has to go through what I felt when I was doing fashion shows where I couldn't fit into any of the clothes, looking at my body pleading for it to change, googling operations to try to make my calves smaller, looking in the mirror and just asking, "Why me?"
Glamour: Model Essena O'Neil made headlines recently for pulling back the curtain on some misleading social media practices. And you're huge on social media now; so do you have any similar sentiments to share?
IL: I keep saying to these girls that my Instagram is filtered. Clients are going to look at it, so I'm not going to pick unflattering pictures—you've got to realize I'm going to make my life look as fabulous as possible. There's pressure because when stylists get down to 2 or 4 models and they're not sure who to book, they will go to our Instagrams and see how many followers we have. That's why I have Snapchat now. It's a way to show me at home with no makeup on, dressed down, eating chicken wings. [Laughs.]
Glamour: That kind of message has now landed you at the helm of Runway Riot! Tell us about your new role and how it came to be.
IL: I'm managing editor [of the team of 6], so all of the decisions are coming through me: the editorial direction, styling, content, and shoppable product. In the beginning, Dan Abrams reached out to a bunch of people in the industry for this role. When we met we sat down and he started talking passionately about curvy women, saying fashion has been exclusive, and that he wanted to give someone the opportunity to have their voice and their message heard while creating a community. It was everything I've been wanting! I left the meeting and had already emailed him, like, five emails of ideas — because I wanted to prove to him that I was right for this.
Glamour: What will Runway Riot's ethos be? What are you working to change in the fashion industry?
IL: I want it to be a place where readers come online to shop [via Reward Style] and see amazing editorials with a diverse range of models. I want readers to say, "Whoa, I've never seen anything so inspiring and aspirational that relates to me." I want everything to be unretouched and not call anything plus-sized. Instead, it will be size categorized, like 0-8, 10-16, 18-above — so that a size 20 girl isn't having to click through 300 tops to see if they come in her size. I want to talk about self-care and mental health, I really want to bring NEDA into that as well. I'm trying to speak about things that fashion sometimes avoids. Ideally, we'll create our own clothing line at some point. Clothing for larger sizes doesn't have to look frumpy and old, it should seamlessly integrate fashion — like Universal Standard. I love what they're doing.
Glamour: You've also said that you'll be working to bring more brands on board with Reward Style and nail down some high-level fashion talent, like photographers and creative directors for your editorials. How are you going to use Runway Riot to bring together those mainstream fashion agents and the plus community?
IL: Traffic and social media. I'm on a mission to prove that women want to see this, click this, and buy this. I've got to just get the women to the site and show by figures and numbers that women are responding and clicking through and shopping. Brands are going to want to get involved. It will obviously start with smaller and more commercial brands, but eventually, I'm going to want to approach companies like Chanel and Dior, and say, "Look, these women are buying more expensive goods and they want to shop, so make bigger sizes!"
Glamour: What challenges do you think you might face on this road?
IL: I had an interview with Refinery29 and the first thing they hit me with was, "You have no experience as a writer." And I responded with the fact that I have wonderful writers on the team, I have Dan, and I have experience on both sides of the fashion industry. I have experiences from the age of 13 in the straight-size industry and I have it from the plus-size industry — I am on a different level with my target audience. I listen to them, I respond to them. I know what they want. I reach out to them and ask if they have ideas and what they'd like to see on the site. They all help me and talk to me.
Glamour: And why can you overcome the challenges you foresee? What motivates you in spite of any criticism?
IL: We need to realize that we can do anything with our lives because of who we are. Because I'm Iskra and because of this experience I can now do XY and Z. Know that it's more important to learn, take in culture, meet people, and try to achieve something more with your life other than what you look like. Instead of waking up and worrying about your thigh gap, wake up and worry about what you're going to achieve today. What can you do and how can you give back?
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Photo Credit: Glamour