It's no secret the fashion industry has a history of being less than inclusive and diverse. This is why plus-size supermodel Liris Crosse has made it her life's work to change that and be the face of what change looks like.
Known as the first plus-size model to win Project Runway, Crosse – who's also considered "The Body" and "Naomi Campbell of Plus," is regarded as a pioneer and advocate for full-figured Black women in fashion and modeling. She previously launched "Life of a Working Model Boot Camp," a series of classes offering the next generation of models tips on how to break into the fashion industry and ways they can improve their craft.
Back in 2019, she released a book called "Make the World Your Runway," in which she stressed the importance of body confidence and success while sharing some of her own tips that have helped her in her career. That year she also served as a featured speaker at the 25th Annual ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans.
The Baltimore native – who grew up in Randallstown, MD, currently serves as a brand ambassador for bridal company Maggie Sottero Designs (MSD), where she's able to spark conversations across the bridal and fashion industries to tackle the issues of diversity and inclusion. Crosse recently held a panel discussion with MSD to talk about how they include more women of color and women of all sizes in their upcoming campaigns. Crosse's knowledge is beginning the groundwork needed to keep these conversations going past the moments of the industry's trends.
In addition to her work with MSD, Crosse also works with Athleta as a brand partner to be a part of their latest collective, where she shares and consults on their new size-inclusive collection.
We spoke with the supermodel pioneer about her journey in the fashion world as a plus-size model, the importance of inclusivity, and advocating for Black women and women of all sizes.
Njera Perkins: How did you get your start in the modeling world?
Liris Crosse: My first start was basically when I went to a model convention. I got callbacks from Michelle Pommier, Seventeen Magazine, Elite Models, and Zoli; I believe it was. They all loved me, but they wanted me to lose weight. I was in the 11th grade and a full-time, year-round student-athlete. So I played basketball, ran track and field, did cheerleading, and even volleyball. I was a very active young lady.
I went back to the next convention my senior year after trying to lose some weight and received even fewer callbacks. I had only got a call back from an agency in Maryland called Nova Models. [By this time] I was all enrolled to start college, but something in my spirit just told me, you need to go after your modeling career and see what happens. I'm glad that I did! It was a very courageous thing for me to do coming from a West Indian family. [Typically] you become an accountant, a doctor, a teacher, or work at social services. So for me to do something that had never been really done in my family was a big deal.
NP: So tell me, being a Black plus-size woman in the modeling industry, where do you think it fails those communities in terms of not being inclusive enough?
LC: It's interesting because although we have seen changes within the industry, it's been at a snail's pace. I will say with the help of social media and [consumers] and people just outright using their voice and being bold; we're starting to see change at a faster pace. But we still have a lot of work to do.
I think with the uprising we've had with Black Lives Matter last year and different organizations, we're going to see a lot more accountability and push for diversity and inclusion, and I'm excited about that. Yes, it's nice when you [see them] use a Black model, but it shouldn't be, 'Okay, we used a Black model this one time, and that's it.'
It needs to be normalized just like our natural hair needs to be normalized. The way we wear our nails, the way we walk and talk, it [all] needs to be normalized. We come in so many beautiful shapes and sizes and have so many different types of features. I want to see the extensive beauty of that. I want to say goodbye to tokenism. We need things to be normalized and not be one-off.
NP: What other changes do you want to see across the industry?
LC: We need to have some type of trickle-down within the modeling industry for Black models. There are a lot of amazing Black models who are unsigned, or they're with smaller boutique agencies. We wonder why we keep seeing the same couple of Black models in all the same campaigns. So how can we get true diversity if it's only the same faces? There's still a lot of elitism, which also feeds into micro-aggressions, racism, and tokenism.
I'm just one voice, but I'm glad that my voice is respected and that people are really taking what I say to heart. I know there have been things that I've been the first in, or I've helped to pioneer or spearhead, but I think it's really amazing what I am currently doing within the bridal industry. You may have seen a Black straight-size model here and there in bridal, but you really didn't see plus-size. Sometimes being a Black model and being plus on top of that, you feel you aren't seen. You feel you do all this work, but they [end up] using somebody who doesn't look like you because this person is more mainstream.
It's crazy because an article came up in Nylon, and the writer mentioned me. [Saying] people like Liris Crosse get left behind because people are not centering or honoring the Black models, Black influences, and Black voices who are paving the way and doing the work. I get emotional talking about this because, sure, this company may not have put me on their cover or hired me yet, but I'm making changes on the ground. All my work is not in vain.