It’s barely been about a month since Jess Miller has left a 9-to-5 job in Seattle to pursue her modeling career in New York, but already she’s in good company. Like legends before her, including Adriana Lima, Miranda Kerr, and Cindy Crawford, Miller's career took a turn when she won a major model search. And with New York Fashion Week about to begin, it's yet to be seen whether she's the next need-to-know name on the runways. (Our instincts say yes.)
Miller came to our attention when she won a contest to be the face for a Universal Standard campaign, a brand that’s breaking the mold when it comes to elevated everyday essentials for women size 10 and beyond. But Miller is breaking the mold, too. In fact she tells us that, as a plus fashion model, a queer woman, and a devout Christian, challenging the status quo is what she’s here for.
Thankfully she's on her way to doing just that. She's also recently signed with The Lions—the agency that represents Cameron Russell and Ebonee Davis, fellow models whose voices on social injustices are as strong as the looks they serve. "It was a good matchup in terms of passion and the way that we see modeling and the fashion world," Miller told us about joining the New York agency and being the first plus-size woman to do so. "It's so much more than just the clothes; it's about the people and ideas and passions all coming together to form something really beautiful."
Ahead, of fashion week (hopefully where Miller will make her debut), we caught up with the model who's not only ready to walk a runway but also determined to use her platform for good.
Signing with a modeling agency is huge for a new model. But I read you did a lot of research to decide which one would be best. What was your criteria?
I knew going into it that I was going to be a plus-sized or curved model just based on my overall size, and I really admired The Lions that they're not thinking about it so much in terms of segments. We are models, and we can be just as powerful in the industry as our straight-sized sisters. They were taking me on as a talent, as a model, and believed in my holistic approach to the fashion industry.
Totally. In the industry, it still seems a lot of people are on the fence about the term "plus size" itself. As someone entering the field, what do you think?
If you don't have any language about something, it's hard to talk about it and then it's hard to educate others about it. And so there needs to be a lot more equity and representation in the fashion industry when it comes to women of different shapes, sizes, colors, ages, ethnicities, and so on. And if helping to clarify plus-size modeling or curvy industry, if that is bringing more representation, then I am all for it. If it is only something to delegitimize models' power and beauty and put them off on the side and only centering fashion around straight-sized models, then I do not want it to be used in that way.
So many models today use their social media platform to share their voice and speak about what's important to them, in fashion and beyond. Now that you're reaching this major moment in your career, how do you think about this?
I feel I was put on the world to break stereotypes and help other people step out of the boxes they've been put in by other people. It seems, for some, incomprehensible that I can be both a Christian and a queer woman. For some, it's incomprehensible that I can be a curvy woman and embrace my size. I think that is something that a lot of people are still not used to. In living out that freedom, coming to terms with my identity, being proud of that, and not forcing that to make myself shrink into the world’s standards, I think that’s very translatable to fashion. I am a certain shape, I am a certain color, I am a certain gender orientation, and yet I want to just exist and live life fully and embrace fashion and wear what I can and help others to see that just because they are a size 18 doesn’t mean that they can’t look fabulous and wear couture and, you know, go out and slay the town.
This feels like such a pertinent message for the fashion industry. Especially now.
I think that we are going to see a lot of empowered people because we are all so different and the fashion industry has been about trends and been about conformity in the past. And I think that when we flip the switch, we realize that differences are powerful and differences are beautiful. We don’t need someone else to define our beauty. We get to define our own beauty.
You signed with a major agency, moved to New York—that's a lot to happen all at once. What has this meant for you so far?
I am definitely in a preparation phase right now. I was coming from a very regular 9-to-5 job in Seattle, and now being here, my schedule is much more traveling around the city to do a lot of test shoots with different photographers and building up my portfolio. It is really exciting because I get to be doing the craft. Castings are another thing that is newer to me. Just going in and seeing a room full of women who look like you is definitely very interesting. Obviously fashion week is coming up, so I’m doing what I can to prepare for that, and I’m hoping to book some shows. That's kind of where I am now.
It's really only the start, but have there been any hard-earned lessons yet?
I grew up moving around a lot, so the idea of picking up life and restarting hasn't been a new idea, but this is the first time I'm doing it alone without any other family or friends joining for the journey. It's not lonely in the sense of a sadness or a melancholy, but I am alone a lot and there's been so much positive introspection that comes from that. There's a lot of times you're alone and negative thoughts can creep in. Am I ready for this? Am I good enough for this? Am I even able to represent all these women and ideas and things that I stand for? And I think that this time alone has given me the chance to really turn off the negative external voices and remind myself that I am here for a purpose and that my purpose is bigger than myself. It will always be bigger than myself, and if I think the world starts and ends with me, then I am off-center.
I love that point. In anything you do, having a bigger purpose is hugely important.
We live in a time when silence is powerful and it is not always a good thing, and so if you are in a field of work where you are fortunate enough to have this platform, you really should be using it for good. If you’re just using these it to get a million likes and only wear pretty clothes, that seems like a shallow way of seeing your purpose in the world.
And unsustainable, too. So you’re prepping for NYFW now. Do you have a dream list of collaborators? Who else in fashion is really aligning with your goals?
I have three. Chromat is a designer that I’ve been following for a while, and I am really excited that it’s been getting so much positive acclaim, especially in terms of runway and in ad campaigns. It’s just such diverse casting, and it is not done in a way of tokenizing, but I feel like it is a real holistic approach to what inclusion across many definitions looks like.
I think Christian Siriano has been doing an amazing thing with size and ethnic representation and obviously has been a wonderful advocate. And Prabal Gurung. I see him making beautiful clothing and also using the platform now to speak out about injustice.
Those three would be amazing to work with. They do such amazing jobs at making women feel beautiful and empowered. That is just the cherry on top of their awesome work.