These 6 Up-&-Coming Female Designers Are About To Change Everything

Runway shows. Cool-girl influencers. Flashy parties. To most, the fashion industry seems like a fantasy world. But despite what the fashion week snaps filling your feed this month might have you believe, it's still facing some serious (usually swept under the rug) issues. They run the gamut from a lack of diversity in campaigns to major gender inequalities; last year, we reported that less than a third of the 92 shows in Paris had women at the helm. The silver lining? Thanks to a group of emerging, mission-driven female designers, the industry's infamous exclusivity — from who can call the shots to who can wear its clothes — is becoming a thing of the past.

Inspired by Disney’s new live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast (which hits theaters on March 17 in 3-D) and Belle’s determination to challenge the status quo, we tapped six like-minded, up-and-coming designers who prove girls really do run the world — at least, they're about to. From a Parsons student whose pieces are helping Syrian refugees to a L.A. native who's developing sustainable luxury (two words you rarely see in the same sentence), the brave women behind these collections aren't just making beautiful clothes, they're activists who are using their designs to empower women, promote inclusivity, and educate people about global issues.

Ready to feel good about the world again? We are, too. Click on to see how fashion's next-gen females are turning it around.

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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Angela Luna, 22
Angela Luna had her eyes set on designing couture post-college when a major global issue — the Syrian refugee crisis — caught her attention. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, she used her senior thesis project to create Adiff, a collection of transformative, functional, and life-changing outerwear for refugees.

You were in your final year at Parsons when the number of Syrian refugees hit an all-time high. What ran through your head?
"I had this feeling of helplessness and began to question my impact on the world and what I was contributing by just focusing on traditional designs. [I thought] I might as well figure out if there's a way for design to offer something to this serious issue."

Your jackets transform into tents, sleeping bags, flotation devices, and backpacks. How did you come up with these designs and what was that process like?
"During my research process, I collected more than 200 images, spoke to volunteers, read a bunch of interviews and news stories, and watched documentaries so that each design would be a response to the real issues that refugees face. Finding a way to translate them from function to actual fashion — while keeping the Parsons aesthetic in check — was the real struggle."
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
You're currently selling one jacket style and raising funds on Kickstarter. What are the next steps for bringing your brand to life?
"I was in Greece this past November testing the products and conducting research at refugee camps. The feedback was amazing, so I'm working to produce the collection in its entirety. It's our goal to start employing resettled refugees within all aspects of the brand, offering long-term solutions as opposed to just short-term solutions like jackets. We really want to look into finding ways to help these people full circle; we know that giving them jackets isn't going to solve all of their problems."

What's your advice to people that might want to give back but don't feel like they have the power to make a real change?
"Even if you think you can’t make a change, you really can. I feel like every industry has potential for change — whether that’s volunteering skills, time, or even money. It's just a matter of thinking about a new way to do it that might not be as obvious as going on a volunteer trip."
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Ashley Nell Tipton, 25
The first plus-size designer to win Project Runway, Ashley Nell Tipton has had a huge impact on the increase of plus-size representation in the industry. Not only has her eclectic personal style encouraged women to break all those antiquated plus-size style rules for good, but her collaboration with JCPenney has given women all over the country access to on-trend, affordable options.

What's been the best thing to come out of your Project Runway win?
"I definitely feel like I've been given a voice in the plus-size community. Winning has allowed all of us plus-size women, or anyone that's ever felt different, to feel like we're finally being noticed."

Your collection for JCPenney has given plus-size women access to clothes that are fashion-forward, fun, and affordable. How did you decide to work with this retailer?
"When I was introduced to the idea, I was fully on board because of the store's reach. I wanted to give women easy access to plus-size clothing. They really embraced my designs and pushed me to be who I am. I can't wait for everyone to see the spring line — it's really me."
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Speaking of the spring line, it hits stores on March 3. What distinguishes this collection from your last?
"Spring is one of my favorite seasons to design because it's so full of color. In this collection, there's really something for everyone — a lot of florals, brights, lace, leather, embroidery, and even some '90s-inspired pieces."

You've encountered your fair share of negative criticism being in the spotlight. How has that played a role in your professional journey?
"Transitioning from reality television to actual reality, there's been a lot of that. I think everything is a learning experience and that you grow into a better person from all of those experiences. I've grown so much this year and just need to keep remembering that there are a lot of people out there that need my support. I remember being young and wishing I had someone like me that I could look up to."

What's your POV on the fashion industry's representation of diversity today?
"I definitely feel like we're progressing and that more plus-size body types are in the public eye. It's going to take a while for people to understand that we should be accepted into this world, but I think it's getting there."
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Becca McCharen-Tran, 32
Chromat founder and CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist Becca McCharen-Tran is a true champion of women — casting trans, plus-size, and amputee women in her shows. An advocate for diversity and inclusivity in the industry, Becca is challenging designers to put a foot down and break stereotypes about what models should look like.

You don't come from a traditional fashion background. Has that been a challenge?

"I came from architecture and actually feel lucky that I didn't go through a traditional fashion education. I didn't know the rules, so I really came at it from a totally different place. Specifically, I look at the body like a building site. And just like architects, I'm constantly mapping things out. It's made me very bilingual with fashion and technology, and I'm able to really understand the engineering side of it."

What type of designs has this translated to?
"I'm super into 3-D printing, using body scanning to extract exact measurements, and then utilizing those scans to build a 3-D-like garment around that data. Every season our goal is the same: to make clothes that empower women and make them feel strong. We look to garments that act as tools for the body. We want them to be functional and adaptable."

Chromat has become known as a brand that promotes inclusivity. Has this always been a goal of yours?
"When we started, it wasn't our goal to be diverse; we just inherently were. Growing up, looking at magazines, every young teen girl senses that there's one type of beauty — it's a very narrow definition. I think it can be really dangerous when you don't see someone like you represented in magazines or in runway shows. It makes you feel like maybe you're not beautiful. So for me, it's really important to celebrate every woman."
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
You include such a diverse range of models in your shows. How did you develop this casting lens?
"In the beginning, I would cast friends and people in the community that volunteered to be our models, so it's grown out of that. Our friends were trans women, women of color, and women of all body sizes — and that's who we're constantly inspired by. They all looked different, and we wanted to celebrate that. That's continued all the way through, and I'm proud that women now identity themselves in the Chromat runway models."

Why do you think there's still such a lack of diversity in fashion?
"I don't know; to be honest, it totally blows my mind. I find it shocking that designers don't cast a diverse mix of models. As far as race and color and ability level, I feel like there's absolutely no reason why runways shouldn't be diverse."

In your opinion, what do you think needs to be done to change this?
"I think there needs to be more press about it — calling people out. Every fashion designer has complete control over their casting. You have to seek out agencies that represent trans models or models of color. You have to do some work to find women that don't fit the stereotypes. Designers need to be the ones to put their foot down and find these women."

What can we expect from you next?
"As a response to the current political climate and people trying to make sense of everything that's going on, we've collaborated with an inflatable company called Climate to create garments that aid in life preservation for our fashion show. They can actually save lives and prevent drowning — to, you know, keep you afloat in these crazy times."
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
BreeLayne, 25
Los Angeles designer BreeLayne has been an environmental activist all of her life, so for her, creating a sustainable ready-to-wear brand was the only option. But she had a vision for something beyond basics. From velvet gowns to Mongolian fur shrugs, she hopes her eponymous line (a favorite of It Girls) will inspire more designers to jump on the eco bandwagon.

Starting a brand is hard enough, let alone a sustainable one. What was your motivation?
"I wouldn’t have started a brand unless I knew I could fully embrace being environmentally conscious. Growing up in L.A., I was surrounded by nature all the time. So after going to Pratt and interning and working for a bunch of companies — from Reformation to The Row — I decided I wanted to start my own line and incorporate sustainability."

Your spring collection is all about "doing you" and owning it. What was your inspiration for this and how did that come to life?
"A lot of my inspiration came from coming into my own and developing my own individuality. I am surrounded by so many strong women who are all so different and unique, and I really wanted to celebrate that with pieces that stand out. I played with that idea through my use of color, couture techniques, and patterns. I like experimenting with exaggerations, so I took classic silhouettes and embellished them or exaggerated proportions."

There aren't many brands that are luxury and eco-conscious. Has it been a challenge? How is your design approach different?
"We're not doing something that exists on a big scale right now, so it's all about making sure everything we do is fully thought through and true to my style. Because sustainability is my first priority, I think I have a really unique opportunity to build a brand that's not only doing things differently from what people expect but also always evolving. Being sustainable doesn't just mean using recycled cotton or linen, it goes much deeper than that."
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Do you think the sustainable fashion movement is progressing?
"Definitely. People are becoming more and more aware and really want to participate in it. If people are investing in luxury clothing and are going to spend the money, it's much more meaningful when there is a conscious element behind it."

How do you give back with your designs?
"We plant a tree with every purchase made. And to monitor our carbon footprint, we only send deliveries out once or twice a week, as opposed to every day. We recycle everything, literally. I will use a piece of paper a hundred times. It's important to me that nothing goes to waste, so we use our scraps and leftover fabrics for everything. It's a constant recycle, reuse process."

What’s your hope for the future of fashion?
"I hope that brands start to embrace sustainable fashion more and more and take advantage of the new advancements, technologies, and fabrics that are available. It’s really up to us to make sure that people are staying informed and thinking twice before they purchase things that — though they may be cheap — are very harmful to the environment."
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Kyemah McEntyre, 19
After her self-designed, African-inspired prom dress went viral in 2015, fashion student slash artist Kyemah McEntyre vowed to use her newfound influencer status to inspire girls all over the world to embrace their natural beauty.

Your prom dress made national news. Were you expecting to receive such a huge reaction?
"I wasn't expecting the world to see it. I've always been an activist and have always wanted to start a revolution. So when the dress made news during the Black Lives Matter movement and received such a positive reaction, it really gave me the confidence to keep doing what I was doing."

You've started to paint African American women on canvas — with an emphasis on the features society has historically deemed unattractive — and then transform the work into gowns. What inspired this?
"When I wake up, all I see is beautiful black women, but unfortunately it isn’t something that’s shown in the media — it’s always someone being overtly scandalous instead. So I wanted to rewrite that narrative and display the beauty I see in my community through art and design. The dresses are real, visual interpretations of black culture."
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
The focus of your collection is to highlight that natural beauty is perfect. What's your advice to young women that might feel pressure to conform to conventional beauty norms?
"I would say that you really have to think about whose life you're living; you only have one life to live. With that being said, we have to really think about the decisions we’re making — and if we’re doing something for ourselves or for someone else. Finding true love for yourself and putting yourself first is really where it begins."

What's your POV on the fashion industry's representation of diversity today?
"We have come a long way but obviously have a lot further to go — and not just with skin color, but with size, too. Fashion has always been about this elite group where you have to be a certain size, shape, or color to belong. And I hate that. We have to be realistic and promote diversity."

What's your long-term goal with your designs?

"I would like people all around the world to see this young black designer doing her thing — pushing the boundaries and being a leader of the movement to change the definition of elegance and beauty. I really hope that I can play a part in bringing a different perspective."
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Lucy Jones, 25
While at Parsons, Lucy Jones (a recent recipient of the CFDA's Eileen Fisher Social Innovator Award) was tasked to design a collection that would one day change the world — NBD. After a Skype session with her cousin, Jake, who has a condition that causes paralysis in half of his body, she realized she had never asked him how he dresses himself. This is where her idea for clothing for people with disabilities was born.

Tell us more about your senior thesis project.
"I genuinely wanted to be the next Alexander McQueen and stage huge runway shows, so when I was assigned that challenge, I had no idea what to do. But after talking to Jake, I found out he struggled quite a bit in his day-to-day living and had to put on his trousers with one hand. I remember asking him, 'What would it mean to you if you could have a pair of trousers that you could do up with one hand really easily?' And he said it would be the next step up from having a disability. I just thought that was so powerful — it really stuck with me."

What did you do when you signed off that call?
"I left the phone call and just started crying. I had never considered that before and felt quite selfish. So I went back into school and said, 'From now on, this is what I'm doing.' Just hearing about his obstacles and how he overcomes them, I was determined that we could do that in fashion as well."

How did you actually address Jake's issues in your designs? How did this come to life?
"Jake's challenge was that he has difficulty pulling up the trousers with one hand (it generally takes much longer), so I created a pair of trousers with a fake fly-front that expanded like origami, giving more space to work with. I also inserted looped handles in the interior of the trousers, so that he could pick up the trousers using the handles on his forearms, and as he would stand up, the trousers would rise with him and then fold away neatly."
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Why do you think disabled people have been excluded in fashion?
"I believe we are smart humans who have the tools and the know-how, so I don't know why it's been left out for so long. That said, I think the industry is finally considering those with disabilities. I think people are waking up and thinking about what we really care about."

What do you foresee to be your biggest challenge?
"As a designer, it's difficult to make something that's for everyone, but that's what I'm focused on over the next few months. If you can show that this would work for an individual that uses a wheelchair and a standing individual, that's the sweet spot. As designers, we have such an opportunity to think about universal design and figure out how we can make clothes and fashion that can apply to many different bodies. It's a huge challenge."

In what ways do you hope to see the industry progress?
"For the fashion industry, I want to see more body types being represented in design. I look at the women in my life, and we're all different sizes and shapes. And I just think that's so beautiful, and we don't celebrate it enough."
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Disney’s live-action retelling of Beauty and the Beast stars Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. Rediscover the classic tale in 3-D, in theaters March 17 — tickets available here.
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