Top Non Binary and Transgender Models of 2023

Mimi tao transgender model

by Alix Coe - August 2023

In recent years, powerful strides of diversity and inclusion have been made in the fashion industry. It’s now possible to see bodies of all sizes and people of all genders rightfully taking up space on the runway. This is thanks in no small part to the influential people who are steering the fashion world into the future. In this article, we’re highlighting eleven models — who identify as transgender and/or non binary — who are paving the way for a more inclusive future in the fashion industry.

Grace Valentine

American non binary model Grace Valentine is signed to Chapter Management — a boutique modelling agency based in London — through which they have walked runway shows for both what is traditionally referred to as menswear and womenswear collections. They are also on the books of HEROS Model Management in New York and Oui Management in Paris. Most recently, Valentine walked the 2023 Zegna Spring show in Milan in menswear not long after taking to the runway for Sacai’s Mens & Resort Show. This year has also seen them featured in Zara’s Spring/Summer collection, as well as hitting the runway for Victoria Beckham, Paco Rabanne, Lanvin, Louis Vitton and Palm Angels. 

This year, Valentine also featured in an editorial for City magazine as well as being on the cover for a separate issue. They are currently featured on the list of the world’s top 50 models on the leading fashion database Of their personal style, Valentine says they’re most comfortable in sneakers, baggy clothes and boxers, and that they’d rather hit the runway in a pair of pants than a dress. The non binary fashion trailblazer currently lives and works in New York City, where they’re also involved in raising awareness of mental health issues, such as BPD. 

Valentina Sampaio

Brazilian model, actress and activist Valentina Sampaio is signed to Premier Model Management in London and has enjoyed some amazing firsts in her career already. Sampaio walked her first ever runway at São Paulo Fashion Week in 2016 and has been a force for good in the fashion world ever since. In 2019, she became the first openly transgender model to pose for iconic lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret. Speaking on this shoot, she said “I hope this can be a huge step towards more inclusivity and representation for everybody.” The year after her Victoria’s Secret shoot, Sampio became the first out trans woman to be on the cover of the Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated.  

Sampaio has had much to celebrate in 2023 already, having been featured on the cover of Harper's Bazaar España and in a Valentine’s Day campaign for Victoria’s Secret. The trend-setting model has also been selected to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show later this year, which has been on hiatus since 2018. Sampaio’s creativity and style extend far beyond the runway into her imaginative activism. In 2021, she auctioned a digital NFT dress to raise money for LGBTQ+ charities. The dress sold for $300,000, making it the most expensive NFT fashion item ever sold. 

Ariel Nicholson 

At just 22 years old, American model, writer and activist Ariel Nicholson is the youngest person to make it onto our list. She had her first taste of the being behind the camera when she was featured in a documentary called Growing Up Trans. At the time, she was in the eighth grade of high school and shared how she had decided to start taking hormones as a teenager. Nicholson made fashion history in 2021 when she became the first openly transgender woman on the cover of US Vogue. This was just three years after she made her modelling debut as the first openly trans woman walking for Calvin Klein.

Since her career took off following the 2018 Calvin Klein show, Nicholson has featured in a number of Calvin Klein advertising campaigns, has taken to the runway for Marc Jacobs, Prada and Miu Miu, and has appeared in editorials for Vogue, Dazed and Re-Edition. Earlier this year, Nicholson wrote an essay for Perfect magazine, where she spoke of taking control of her modelling career which had begun to feel “toxic”. In her piece, she highlights how gender non-conforming models can easily be exploited in the fashion world by brands looking to fill a diversity quota. Although she’s still modelling, Nicholson says she’s now doing it on her own terms and is also planning to go back to school to pursue writing and acting. 

Chella Man 

Chella Man is a Chinese-American artist and model. He’s also Jewish, deaf, genderqueer and a vocal advocate for intersectionality and empowerment in the fashion world. Since moving to New York City from Pennsylvania, Man has worked collaboratively in art and fashion, stating that he doesn’t see his “work in either area as separate from one another.” In 2018, Man became the first transmasculine model to be signed to the international modelling agency IMG Models. Since then, he’s been featured in shoots for Calvin Klein, Gucci, GAP and American Eagle. In 2021, he became the first transmasculine model to be featured in a campaign for YSL Beauty for its Nu collection. 

Man’s work has also expanded away from the camera lens and onto television screens. In 2019, he was cast in the TV series Titans as a mute superhero. He has also created his own short film, The Device That Turned Me Into A Cyborg Was Born The Same Year I Was, which explores his experience of wearing a cochlear implant. Last year, Man announced on Instagram that he’d been appointed as an ambassador for Nike, featuring in the sports giant’s BeTrue campaign to promote safer spaces for marginalised communities. 

Laith Ashley

American model and actor Laith Ashley shot to fame in 2014 after Instagram photos of him in Calvin Klein underwear went viral. Laverne Cox was among the first to reshare the image, which sparked a chain of events leading to the launch of his modelling career. This unpredictable viral moment eventually earned him an invitation to be on a reality TV show about trans models. A short while later, Ashley was featured in a campaign for Barneys and later went on to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week. His career as a model and an actor has gone from strength to strength, having already posed in shoots for Abercrombie & Fitch, Diesel, Out Magazine, GQ and Vogue Hommes. 

Earlier this year, Ashley starred as Taylor Swift’s love interest in her Lavender Haze music video, which has been celebrated throughout the LGBTQ+ community as a huge stride forward for trans visibility. Since he was young, Ashley has been a dedicated athlete and has enjoyed working out — and these interests grew when he began his transition at the age of 23. He recently shared that one of his early transition goals was to “be jacked”, revealing he put a lot of work into building his dream body. 

Leyna Bloom 

American model Leyna Bloom is not only a trailblazer in the fashion world, she’s also a successful dancer and actress. Impressively, she also dedicates a lot of her time to LGBTQ+ activism and advocacy. Bloom’s career kicked off in 2014 and by 2017 she was one of the most well-known openly trans models in the fashion world. This is the year she took to the runway at New York Fashion Week and became the first openly trans model of colour to be featured in Vogue India. She is the first Black and Asian trans woman to be featured in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue. In 2018, Glamour magazine named Bloom as one of "6 Women Who Are Shaping the Future of Fashion” and the following year she walked in the Tommy Hilfiger x Zendaya fashion show at Paris Fashion Week.  

In 2023, she walked in the LaQuan Smith Fall/Winter show in New York and has featured in an editorial for Vogue Philippines. Bloom was recently photographed looking fabulous in a floral Mark Bumgarner dress at the Tony Awards, sharing the image to her own Insta with the caption, “You can’t turn clay into gold”. Outside of the fashion and modelling world, Bloom is also a well-known face in the New York Ballroom scene, and is the mother of the house of Miyake-Mugler. 

MiMi Tao 

Born and raised in Thailand, Mimi Tao began to truly understand her gender while living for six years in a Buddhist temple. After leaving the temple, her journey into the fashion world was a complicated one with many setbacks, but she powered through and made her modelling debut at New York Fashion Week for Marco Marco in 2017. Just two years after her first runway walk, Tao stole the show on Project Runway when she became the first transgender model to appear on the series. Described as a “real goddess” by her designer on the show, Tao shared with the world just how hard she had worked to get there.

Since her days on Project Runway, she has been on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, as well as being featured in Teen Vogue, LA Weekly, Tatler, Cosmopolitan and more. The story of her rise to fame has been featured in a number of online news sites, such as the BBC and the Daily Mail. In 2020, Tao was appointed as an ambassador for the Reduced Inequalities campaign — a collaboration between the United Nations, #TOGETHERBAND and Global Goals to combat discrimination, tackle gender-based violence and increase digital accessibility. She now lives in New York City, where she regularly features in high-end fashion shows and advertising campaigns. 

Nathan Westling 

Nathan Westling made his modelling debut in 2013 walking for Marc Jacobs. Six years into his career, he shared his transition with the world and then began to work as a male model. Pre-2019, Westling was known for having an androgynous look and a unique sense of gender-neutral style. Since announcing his transition, he has again taken to the runway for Marc Jacobs and been on the cover of several high-end magazines, such as Daxed, i-D and L’Uomo Vogue. Westling has also proudly been named one of the most influential figures in fashion by the Business of Fashion.

Westling has been signed to a range of high-end modelling agencies and his impressive portfolio from the last decade includes campaigns for Alexander McQueen, Dior, Versace, Prada, Louis Vitton and more. In the summer of 2022, Westling was on the cover of British Vogue alongside Munroe Bergdorf, Valentina Sampaio, Cara Delevingne, Aweng Chuol and other famous faces referred to as “children of the gender revolution” in celebration of Pride. In 2023, Westling has been on the cover of Perfect, with a shoot centred around autonomy, which explores “the power of self, of personal choice, of independence….the ability to make one’s own decisions, to live as we see fit.”

Jari Jones 

Jari Jones is an American trans femme producer, model, actress and dedicated LGBTQ+ activist. In 2020, Jones was one of nine models featured in Calvin Klein’s pride campaign. A photo of Jones was used for the brand’s billboard campaign in a popular Soho spot, and a photo of Jones in front of the billboard went viral, quickly spreading her name around the internet and propelling her career as a model.  Before her modelling career took off, Jones had already made a name for herself in the movie world as the first Black trans woman to produce a film competing in the Cannes Film Festival. The 2019 movie, Port Authority, of which she was a cast member, script consultant and producer, is a queer love story set amidst the ballroom scene in New York. Jones was also cast in the Netflix series Tales of the City

In the last few years, Jones has walked a number of runway shows, including New York Fashion Week. She has famously modelled for the body-positive brand Chromat, as well as for No Sasso, which is the first collection featured in the New York Fashion Week to be headed up by a trans woman. In a double win for inclusivity, Jones was the first Black trans woman to wear No Sasso on the New York runway, where she definitely stole the show. Jones has also appeared in Dove’s "Goodbye Judgement, Hello Underarms" campaign and “Clothing is Political” by Elizabeth Suzann. When it comes to her activism, Jones is a fierce advocate for transgender rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. Through her mission to promote self-acceptance and lift up other members of her intersectional communities, Jones is breaking down barriers and paving the way for others to follow. 

Teddy Quinlivan 

American model Theodora “Teddy” Quinlivan was discovered and invited into the fashion world in 2015 by Louis Vuitton’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière. It was just two years later that she came out as trans — an announcement that was met with much positivity in the industry. In 2019, Quinlivan became the first openly trans model to work for Chanel with a video campaign in which she shared her summer makeup routine. In an Instagram post announcing the collaboration, Quinlivan said, “ I am the first openly trans person to work for the house of Chanel, and I am deeply humbled and proud to represent my community. In her impressive career so far, Quinlivan has walked for an amazing selection of brands and designers, including Jason Wu, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Jeremy Scott, Carolina Herrera and Saint Laurent. 

She is a vocal supporter of eradicating sexual harassment in the fashion industry and has famously refused to walk for any designer who collaborates with someone who has been accused of such misconduct. So far in 2023, Quinlivan has walked the runway for David Koma’s Fall/Winter show and Philipp Plein. Earlier this year, she posed in an advertising campaign for luxury haircare brand Kérastase.

Violet Chachki 

Violet Chachki is an American drag queen, musician and genderfluid model. They began working as a drag performer at the age of 19 and has been making a name for herself ever since. Chachki’s rise to fame reached new heights when she took the crown as the season-seven winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race and she’s been unstoppable ever since. Since her 2015 RuPaul win, Chachki has featured in Dita von Teese’s neo-burlesque show, The Art of Teese, taken to the runway for Moschino at Milan Fashion Week.

In 2019, she made an appearance at the Met Gala in New York City as one of the first drag queens to attend the luxurious fashion fundraiser. Shortly after the event, Chachki was listed in New York Magazine’s list of “most powerful drag queens in America", ranking in 16th place. 2023 has already been a great year for Chachki, having been featured on the cover of Vogue Czechoslovakia in March and walking the runway in Florence for the British Vogue - Luisa Via Roma show in June. Also in June, they were celebrated with the Cultural Icon Award, an honour given by the Tom of Finland Foundation — an organisation that promotes and preserves the erotic arts.  

Trans and Non Binary Models Leading the Way

It’s exciting to think that these eleven models are just a handful of the trans and non-binary people pulling the fashion world into the future. This enhanced visibility is not only a win for these individuals but also paves the way for the next generation of trans and gender-nonconforming models to have a much smoother route into the industry.

Do you like this article? If you do, you may also be interested in: Non Binary Fashion Influencers Redefining Today’s Landscape

Credit for the featured image: Model: MiMi Tao, Photography: Alejandro Poveda. Permisssion to use image granted by MiMi Tao.

Alix Coe is a non-binary writer and personal trainer working exclusively with the LGBTQIA+ community. They currently live in Brighton, UK.