Ever since Ashley Graham became the first-ever plus-size model to appear in Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue (she was in an ad in 2015 and nabbed a cover this year), her rise can — and has — been characterized as "meteoric." The IMG-repped model has been in the biz for 16 years, but she's recently used her platform to open up the conversation about body diversity in a historically closed-off industry — through high-profile editorials and campaigns, magazine covers, as well as her own lingerie and swimsuit lines. In her latest gig, Graham handily proves a non-sample sized model can (and should) be the face of a high-profile brand. As Harper's Bazaar reports, she's starring in H&M Studio's new campaign.
Past models to front the retailer's high-end collection, which launched in 2013, include Ola Rudnicka, Chiharu Okunugi, Karmen Pedaru, Edie Campbell, and Vanessa Axente — it appears Graham is the first plus-size rep for this particular range. She walked the brand's inclusive fall '16 runway in Paris earlier this year, and has posed for various fashion brands' plus-size lines. This ad spot is different, though: It doesn't have a size-specific target customer, and that's a really important distinction. "Growing up, I didn't have curvy role models, mainly because I didn't see enough curvy women represented in major ads," Graham told Harper's Bazaar. "My hope is that young women who shop at H&M see me in the ads and are reminded that there is not one standard definition of beauty or one perfect size."
H&M has been championing diverse casting, including this hijab-wearing model featured in a video and the 60-year-old model in its swimwear editorial (both in the last year). As Graham told Refinery29 earlier this year, the retailer isn't just paying lip service to inclusivity. "H&M was so honest about including so much diversity and letting people know that there's really not only one kind of beauty," she said of the H&M Studio show (which she had just walked in when we spoke to her in March).
A spokesperson for H&M told Refinery29 that a diverse casting in both fashion shows and marketing (meaning models of all ages, sizes, and ethnicities) is "natural" for the brand. "It reflects our values, our colleagues, and our customers," the retailer said in a statement. "This is our reality." This philosophy isn't only refreshing and necessary, it's also profitable — just look at the success of American Eagle's #AerieReal initiative. The H&M Studio styles Graham's showcasing will be in stores and online starting on September 8, and prices are expected to range from $19.99 to $299.