America's First Transgender Modeling Agency Is Set to Launch This Summer
From spearheading commercial beauty campaigns to walking designer runways to landing major magazine covers, transgender models are shaking up the fashion industry in a big way. Brazilian supermodel Lea T is the face of Redken, teenage YouTube star Jazz Jennings is the spokesperson for Clean & Clear, and Australian model Andreja Pejic is leading a new campaign for Make Up for Ever. And who could forget Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover?
Cecilio Asuncion cites all of these major landmarks as evidence of an industry that’s becoming more accepting of and interested in transgender models. To meet growing demand for new talent, Asuncion is launching the U.S. chapter of Thailand-based Apple Model Management, which last year became the first agency to open a division for transgender models. While the Thailand flagship also manages models who are cisgender, the L.A. location will exclusively recruit and foster transgender talent.
“At Apple Model Management, it’s very important for us to say, ‘OK, you’re trans. Let’s teach you how to do makeup. Let’s teach you how to walk. Let’s teach you how to take a good picture,’ ” says Asuncion, whose 2012 documentary What’s the T, explored the lives of transgender women living in San Francisco. “[The agency] is really about supporting the community and developing them to be the best models as possible.”
While Pejic and Lea T have recently appeared in Vogue, the industry wasn’t always so quick to accept and promote transgender models. In the 1970s, the British model and actor Caroline “Tula” Cossey was a rising star, making a name for herself in the pages of Australian Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. But when a tabloid outed her as transgender, it nearly ruined her career.
“There have been trans models before; they just didn’t reach their full potential because they lived in fear,” says Asuncion. “But of course modeling is a very time-sensitive career, and they couldn’t change how the community at large saw them at the time.”
Breaking into modeling can be difficult enough, but even outside the fashion industry, transgender people face incredible barriers in the workplace. Transgender Americans experience unemployment at double the rate of the general population, and about 90 percent reported being harassed, mistreated, or discriminated against at work, according to a 2011 survey by leading transgender advocates.
“Here’s the thing,” says Asuncion. “I’m a double minority: I’m gay and I’m Asian. So the opportunities that I have, being a double minority, are still more than the transgender community have had. And now is the time [for a transgender agency] because the lay of the land is changing.”