It’s appropriate that Gen Z ends with the last letter in the alphabet, because as a collective, they’re putting an end to the many social stigmas of past generations. This is a good thing — this is progress, this is evolution. And it’s an especially twinkling, beaming light in the beauty industry, which has, up until the last few years, largely remained in the dark when it comes to inclusivity. We can’t help but feel like Gen Z has only just lit the match and ignited the spark of what’s to come next.
The entrepreneurs, makeup artists, influencers, models, and photographers of this generation are abolishing the rigid, exclusive beauty ideals that have been sitting on the shelf collecting dust for so many years. This powerful and progressive group stood up and demanded a revolution, and they got one. Their voices, amplified by a social media megaphone, were finally heard by beauty executives, CEOs, and brand founders — and when they weren’t, they went out and created the change for themselves.
Here, we speak with 16 Gen Z trailblazers in the beauty world on how they’re holding the industry accountable, where they think the future of beauty is heading, and why there’s no such thing as being too young to follow your dreams anymore.
Model and Social Media Activist
Flipping the script on Internet trolls, Mitchell began posting selfies of herself with bananas (something cyberbullies compared her freckled skin to). Before she knew it, she was scouted by photographer Mayan Toledano and signed to LA Models. Now, Mitchell has been featured in Wonderland and Paper, and models for brands like Gucci and Urban Outfitters.
What are your thoughts on the wave of inclusivity in the beauty industry?
"I want to see models of all shapes, sizes, ages, and genders being represented, because in beauty, ultimately, you just want to see somebody who looks like you. There are some beauty brands out there that are inclusive of one or two people and then they feel like they succeeded in being diverse, but that’s not it — brands need to have models that look like everybody."
Have you ever experienced ageism?
"Sometimes when I’m on set and people find out that I'm 19, they're like, 'Wow, you're more eloquent than I expected,' and I'm like, 'I don't know why you'd expect any less, but thank you?'”
What makes Gen Z so special — and what will it be known for?
"This generation is really powerful and holds a lot of potential to really change the future and make waves in all industries. We're not dealing with discrimination the same way [as past generations]; we're actually speaking up, and we’re going to continue to speak up. We’re not a silent generation — and we’re not a stupid generation."
Teen CEO at Zandra Beauty, Public Speaker, and Green-Beauty Activist
Zandra started her first beauty business at 9 years old after being frustrated with the lack-of natural options on the market. Today, she runs Zandra Beauty, her bath and body line that’s made with plant-based formulas and is sold at Paper Source stores across the nation.
What obstacles did you face when you got into the skin-care business?
"The biggest challenge was getting people to take me seriously. A lot of people played it off like it was a cute little business. I enrolled in the Minority and Women Entrepreneurial Program at the University at Buffalo; in the rules it didn’t say how old you had to be. I was 13 when I graduated that program, and that’s when people started to realize my business was serious."
You’re also a public speaker. What’s your goal in sharing your story?
"It’s all about letting kids know that they can do it, but also letting them know that it’s going to be hard. My products are sold across the nation [and] I’ve experienced many once-in-a-lifetime things, but that’s because I’ve had to miss out on a ton of parties and school events. I’ve had no-sleep days, and days where I felt like I wanted to give up. But the hard work pays off."
What will your generation be remembered for contributing to the beauty world? "The reincarnation of what beauty actually is. We have tons of skin-care lines that, for years and years, have been putting out products with harmful ingredients just to feed you the idea that they’re going to help with your skin-care concerns. The future of beauty is natural, plant-based formulas. This generation cares to know what’s really going onto their body and skin."
Visser has taken over Hollywood as the youngest self-taught celebrity makeup artist in the game. Now, he paints the faces of little-known celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Mariah Carey.
As a teen makeup artist, how important is social media for you?
"Without social media, I would not be where I am today, and I definitely would not have the clients that I have today. It’s funny because when I first started working with celebrities, they would be like, 'Wait, how old are you?” and I had to be like, 'Uh, I’m 16 years old' [laughs] and they would be like, 'What?! I did not know that you were that young!' It was really funny."
What would you say your generation is championing?
"The transition of boys in makeup becoming mainstream. Before, it was such a small circle of people, so this generation really brought that forward and made it so accepted. I remember when boys in makeup was completely unheard of, and you were a 'freak' if you were a guy wearing makeup. This progress has really helped kids accept themselves with gender fluidity."
What would you like to see your generation contribute to the beauty world?
"I think there would be so much more acceptance if people would stop trying to conform to look a certain way on social media — if they created their own look. People think that every girl wants to look like Kylie Jenner, but that’s not true. I’ve seen so many beautiful women who don’t —social media just makes it up to be like that. People need to learn to love themselves."
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Model and Public Speaker
After being the first contestant to wear a hijab and a burkini during the Miss Minnesota USA pageant in 2016, Aden landed a modeling contract with IMG. Since then, Aden has graced the covers of Allure, CR Fashion Book and Vogue Arabia — all while proudly wearing her hijab.
You’ve made history being the first hijab-wearing model to sign with a major agency and walk the New York Fashion Week runways. How does it feel?
"It feels amazing. I think about all the girls who are going to come after me. Sometimes it’s hard being the first one, but at least I know the next group of Muslim-American girls who enter the industry are going to have someone they can reference. For them to see me — signed to the biggest agency in the world and still wearing my hijab everyday — gives them hope."
What’s your biggest piece of advice for young girls who want to enter the industry?
"I would say to try. There’s no way to know that you’re going to fail, but if you don’t try, then you’re definitely going to fail. Who would have thought that opportunity would come from a Miss Minnesota USA pageant? It’s incredible, but that’s what happens when you try. And by the way, I didn’t win that pageant."
What was it like being asked to model for the Fenty Beauty campaign?
"After the campaign came out, I DMed [Rihanna] and she replied back! I was like, 'Thank you. I never thought I’d see a hijab-wearing girl involved in any beauty campaign this big,' and she was like, 'Of course! I loved having you.' There weren’t two girls who looked alike on set. I hope more beauty brands start casting this way, but I don’t want it to be a trend — like, This season we’re all about diversity... and next season we’re back to having 15 girls who are the same."
You’ve also started speaking at schools across the country. What is that like?
"When I was in high school, I remember speakers used to come to my school, but I could never connect with them. Having the struggle of being Black, Muslim, and a girl all combined can be really hard sometimes, but I want to share my story and hopefully have kids connect with it. As a Muslim-American, it helps dissolve so many stereotypes, and I think that’s incredible."
Model, Dancer, and Advocate
As the first professional model with Down syndrome, Stuart has been featured in Vogue and Cosmopolitan, walked the catwalk at fashion weeks all over the world, and earned a large (and extremely loyal) following on social media because of her inspiring story.
*By request, this interview was done on behalf of Madeline with her mother Rosanne.*
How did Madeline feel before her first modeling job?
"Madeline doesn't get nervous about anything; she’s always just super excited. The first time she ever got on the catwalk, she walked in front of about 300 people and she was fist pumping the air with excitement. She’s always been a performer and she's never been shy."
What has the reception from the fashion and beauty industries been like for her?
"People are usually in three categories. One: There’s the people who have someone with a disability in their lives so they believe in inclusion and are supportive of her career. Two: There's the people who are open to it, but don't understand it, so they don't know how to work with her. Three: There's a group of people that don’t believe she's a real model who’s working in the industry; they see no use for her at all. It's a really hard industry, but Madeline works very hard. Because it’s new, and it's not how society has ever been before, it can be very difficult."
How do you think Madeline has changed the industry?
"We just did a show out at Denver Fashion Week and each show she walked, she would get a standing ovation. It’s become the norm now to see diversity on the catwalk, because it’s finally reflecting what society really looks like. I don't think it’s ever going to go back to how it was."
Model, Founder of Anti-Capitalist Women’s Magazine Mythos, and Student
Modeling for beauty brands like Oribe, Too Faced, Wet ‘n’ Wild, Maybelline, and L'Oréal (to name a few), Richards is anything but your typical face: With a politically-charged pulse on the beauty industry, she’s quickly making waves as both a beauty model and a journalist.
How do you keep your confidence in the modeling industry?
"So often I see job postings from brands that are like, “We want the perfect all-American girl. Big breasts, but not overtly sexual. Sparkling and young, but sophisticated. Fun, but not too slutty. Oozes confidence, but with a bit of mystery,” and I’m like, What the fuck did I just read? What do casting agents think when they see women on the street? Definitely not human beings, and definitely nothing other than degrees of proximity to a fantasy."
How do you confront ageism in the beauty industry?
"All you can do in those situations is take a deep breath and say something to yourself like, 'I’m here. I am supposed to be doing this job because I was hired to, and all I need to focus on is doing my best.' People only lash out in an ageist way because it’s a demonstration of how fragile their own ego is — it doesn’t say anything about you."
How does being a feminist impact how you consume beauty?
"Girl Power is used to market seemingly everything these days — from fast-fashion to a $600 T-shirt. I think it’s a slippery slope, for both producers and consumers. Was your lipstick made by women who are underpaid and exploited for their labor? That’s why I’m focused on supporting beauty brands who are transparent about their production methods. To me, that’s a much better model of feminism than buying an eyeshadow called 'Activist.'"
Model, Anti-Bullying Social Media Activist, and Girl Boss for The Colored Girl
Through her work with The Colored Girl, as well as the #antibullying and #selflove messages she sends to half a million followers on Instagram, Diop is helping women of color claim their power. Her site's mission, “Beautifully disrupting the status quo,” matches her own.
You've talked about your own experience with bullying. How did you overcome it?
"The bullying started when I moved to Paris and the states... People have made comments like 'midnight' [and] 'mother of stars.' At first I confronted the bullies, but eventually I learned to tune out the negativity and just love myself more."
Where does your confidence come from?
"It started with my sister: She would always help try to make me feel more confident. My mom also inspires me — we look a lot like each other, so that helps boosts my confidence because I look up to her. [As a model] I feel really proud of myself just knowing that other people are looking up to me. I’m helping others, and by doing that, I’m also helping myself."
What advice do you have for teens who feel similar to the way you did?
"I want to tell them that the only voices that can stop them are in their own head, and nobody can hurt them more than their own selves. I also want them to celebrate themselves. I hope I can inspire them to love the skin they’re in by bringing awareness to how diverse skin tones are."
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Model and Musician
Who can say that Pat McGrath was the person who first taught you how to apply makeup? Or that one time you got to hang out with Rihanna in a New York City bodega? Mallory Merk can. Besides modeling for major brands, Merk has also entered the music world with an EP.
How did you land the modeling gig for Fenty Beauty?
"One day I was in school and, out of nowhere, Rihanna followed me back on Instagram. A few months later, I got an email that she wanted me to model in her Paper magazine shoot. It felt like she casted a group of friends, which was the same vibe as the Fenty shoot. I’m proud to be a part of Fenty because, in my opinion, it’s the first makeup brand that [includes] everybody."
What sort of ageism, if any, have you experienced in the industry?
"I’ve had managers put me off with comments like, 'Where’s your mom?' or, 'Where’s your manager?' And I’m like, 'I’m right here, you can talk to me!' Being a girl and being young are two things that can put you at a disadvantage — it’s an everyday struggle just to have your ideas be heard. But as a young female you just have to do; I don’t care to fit a mold anymore."
What’s new with your music career?
"I'm still developing my sound and I want the world to be able to grow with me as an artist. My music is the best reflection of myself, so when I put out my next project, my fans and my followers are going to, hopefully, feel the same way they felt about my first project."
Founder of Willa Skincare
Doss started Willa Skincare when she was 9 years old after her mom was diagnosed with skin cancer and she couldn’t find any preventative skin-care products for teen girls. Now, after almost a decade in the beauty industry, her brand is still growing rapidly.
Since you started your brand at age 9, have you experienced any sort of ageism?
"Sitting in a conference room full of business executives — who, by the way, all happen to be men — was a constant fight to prove myself. From the minute I walked in, I had to assert myself: 'Hi! I am capable, I am smart, I am worthy of your attention, and I am worthy of being heard.' It wouldn’t be until like half an hour into the meeting — if I even got enough speaking time — that they’d be like, 'This girl really does know what she's talking about.'"
What are your thoughts on the power of Gen Z?
"We're so connected with each other through social media that we're able to have this incredibly supportive community that didn't exist before. We have young people sharing their ideas, thoughts, and issues with others, and then there's a positive dialogue about it and that dialogue is what inspires other young people to go out there and implement whatever was said."
How do you think Gen Z has directly impacted the beauty industry?
"We’re showing and embracing different types of women, men, and sexualities, which have larger ramifications in society and politics. These attitudes put pressure on all of the other beauty companies out there that are non-inclusive or don't have equal representation. This is our generation's new expectation from beauty companies."
Model and Body Positive Social Media Activist
After her first photoshoot with ultimate girl power brand Me & You, Bonfils landed a contract with Wilhelmina Models as a curve model in their division. When she’s not promoting body confidence on her Instagram page, she’s either at school or doing a stick ‘n’ poke tattoo.
What has your relationship with your body been like and how has your confidence grown as a plus-size model?
"When I started thinking about my body as something strong, something that helped me get through illnesses, and all the multi-faceted purposes my body has — seeing it as more of a practical thing rather than something to look at just for aesthetics — it made me appreciate so many other things about my body rather than just the amount of 'space' I was taking up."
How do you handle hateful, body-shaming comments online?
"Whenever a post of mine gets on Instagram’s explore page, that’s usually when I’ll get a flood of hate comments — every hour I’ll have like, 15 new comments telling me to kill myself. Because I’ve dealt with a lot of that language from the people around me in real life — and a lot of that language in my own head — I’ve become a lot more resilient towards it. I know who I am, so I try not to let those comments influence me, but that’s a lot easier said than done."
What are some of the positive changes being made for plus-size models in the beauty industry right now?
"As time goes on, we’re doing more things than we did before, so the industry is kind of proving itself to us. But the one thing we can do is make more space for other plus-size models. Lately, I’ve been loving brands like Nike and Outdoor Voices, because I appreciate athletic-based brands that [advertise] curvy women as active people in their wellness campaigns. Normalizing exercising for every body type should be an industry standard."
Instagram Personality and YouTube Makeup Sensation
With an impressive curation of original makeup trends on her Instagram feed, Nora inspires her followers to explore, have fun, and create unconventional beauty looks on the reg.
How did you get into makeup and beauty?
"I started playing with my mom's makeup when I was younger — I’d go through her makeup stash and pretend to know what I was doing, which mostly consisted of really heavy raccoon eyeliner. I wasn't allowed to wear makeup until my high school years, but I'm honestly glad because I learned to appreciate makeup as an art form, and not just something out of necessity."
Your aesthetic is different from the conventional YouTube "look." How has the community embraced you?
"A lot of friends and viewers have told me that I’ve inspired them to step out of their comfort zones and do cool makeup; I’m so humbled to be in a position where I can influence other people’s lives in a positive and artistic way. People are slowly resisting to conform to society’s standards of beauty and are gravitating towards their own meaning of beauty."
Gen Z is now considered one of the most influential groups. Why is that?
"Because of our fearlessness — and something along the lines of not giving a fuck."
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YouTube Makeup Sensation and Trans Social Media Activist
After Dragun came out as transgender on YouTube, she was “shook” by how much love and support she received. Since then, she’s taken over the beauty world (including a wig collaboration with Bellami Hair that keeps selling out) with her quick wit and inspiring story.
What are your views on where the beauty industry stands today?
"Right now, the new normal is to be weird — it’s almost cool for you to be weird — and speaking as the honorary weird girl from the get-go, I would just hate for anyone to feel like there’s pressure to feel unique instead of just being their authentic self. I [also] think it’s pressuring beauty brands to be inclusive and to actually showcase real fucking people."
How do you feel about your generation?
"People want to say that we're always on our phones, that we can’t hold a conversation or get a job — but that’s so far from the truth. The cookie-cutter way of life — go to college, get married, have a white picket fence — all of that is being questioned now. We’re not just angsty, rebellious teenagers — Gen Z has a loud voice and we’re able to make progressive changes in the political, social, and beauty worlds. This generation has its eyes open."
What's your advice for the generation that’s following in your footsteps?
"Do not base who you are on how many likes, retweets, and friends you have. It’s easy to get wrapped up in someone’s life on social media by seeing how they live and then trying to emulate that — but it’s really about creating your own space. That’s what I did with my trans journey. That one label of being trans doesn’t encapsulate everything about me. I’m not just a trans girl."
Model and Social Media IT Girl
Bland has appeared in campaigns for Nike, Adidas, and Spotify, and most recently starred in Sean Frank’s short film H.E.R — all while proudly showing off her long, blonde locs.
What advice do you have for young, unsigned models on social media who want to break into this industry?
"Don't let yourself be exploited — do your research and find out what the normal rate is for the shoots you’re being asked to do. It's OK to just be like, 'I appreciate you reaching out, however that rate is too low or unacceptable because my time is valuable.'"
During this progressive beauty movement, more women of color are embracing their natural hair. What has been your own experience?
"I’ve had locs for almost 12 years now, so it’s a big part of my identity. They’ve grown with me, literally, throughout the years, so they’re a really cool connection I have with myself. I didn’t grow up seeing any models with locs, so it's important for me to keep shooting for these big brands with my locs because I was discouraged from modeling for a very long time. I hope that little girls out there are looking at me and know they can do what I’m doing, too."
How do you feel about the cultural appropriation of locs in the industry?
"That’s something you don’t talk about in the industry — like you’re not 'supposed' to talk about it — but it’s definitely a form of theft. When a big designer puts a bunch of yarn locs on like, 50 white models for a runway show, that’s disrespectful. There’s a respect level that lacks in the industry overall for people of color and their hairstyles. I don’t see locs as a hairstyle, I see locs as a way of life, because it really is for me.. It’s a part of me, and they’re not going anywhere."
Photographer and Artist
While studying photography in college, Nastia’s career took off on social media thanks to her unique gaze when it comes to shooting beauty images. Recently, she’s been getting buzz for her project Pussyluminati (NSFW), in which she photographed models’ pubic hair and vulvas.
How do you make your subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera?
"It’s about making them feel like they’re part of the project by inviting them into the conversation and asking for their input... not just as a model, but also as a creative individual. I’m still in between being a teenager and being an adult, so I’m trying to find myself, my style, and who I am. I’ve been struggling a lot with my appearance, my social media presence, and what people think about me, so a lot of my photos are inspired by that right now."
How can teen photographers change the way we see and consume beauty?
"It’s important for photographers to have their input in creative projects, so when a brand is casting a beauty shoot and all the models are just blonde, skinny girls, then, as the photographer, you can say, 'Hey, there’s not only blonde, skinny girls in the world!' Because our images are going to be seen by young girls, older girls, boys, and anybody really, it’s important to show that there’s not just one standard of beauty."
Do you ever face ageism from people who book you for professional work?
"Most of the time, people have no idea how old I am, so it’s usually a surprise when I arrive on set because they’re like, 'Oh my god, you’re so young.' Sadly, people think that just because I’m young, they don’t have to pay me as much because I’m not a 'professional' photographer — but I have just as much experience. It’s about telling them, 'My age doesn’t define me as an artist.'"
Co-Founder & Chief Inspiration Officer of Nudestix, with her sister Ally
Not many kids grow up mixing their own lip gloss, but for Taylor (and her sister Ally, featured below) this was a normal after-school activity since their mom has been formulating products for over 20 years. The three of them started Nudestix, which is now sold at Sephora.
How did Nudestix begin?
"My mom’s intention was never to start a beauty brand with her two teenage daughters; it really came about because she noticed we weren’t following any beauty brands on Instagram — just lifestyle brands that we felt were authentic. How many executives listen to the insights of their two teenage daughters? My mom did — and she’s my biggest mentor for that reason."
How have you seen the beauty industry change since you started your brand?
"A few years ago, it used to be about perfect, flawless, artistic, colorful makeup — you weren’t hearing the term 'no-makeup makeup.' Everything was like, makeup looks that took 20 or more steps to complete and hour-long YouTube tutorials — who has time for that? I wanted products that took five minutes and were quick and easy to use, hence the creation of Nudestix."
How is Gen Z influencing the beauty industry?
"As a demographic, Gen Z has the largest buying power. We’re very confident in our voice and we’re embracing our uniqueness."
Co-Founder & Chief Inspiration Officer of Nudestix, with her sister Taylor (above)
How have you seen the beauty landscape change?
"When we first launched at Sephora, all we wanted to talk about was 'less is more,' because that’s how we feel about beauty. Since then, the beauty industry has changed its perception of what 'less is more' means and what natural makeup means. We were one of the first brands that had all-natural, nude shades; nowadays, every brand is launching a nude collection."
How are you working to make your brand more eco-conscious?
"So many brands use so much packaging, which is awful for the environment considering how much is thrown away for one product. We use tins because they're reusable and recyclable — we don’t want to harm the environment. The beauty industry is one of the most polluted industries, so it’s important for us to try and limit our waste production as much as possible."
Gen Z is now considered the most powerful and influential generation. Why do you think that is?
"We're powerful because we’re go-getters. Gen Z are dreamers: We go for what we want, we don’t care about boundaries or set backs, and we will fight and push for our dreams. It’s a very open generation who aren’t afraid of stigmas or breaking the rules."