“My career was so multifaceted, if you look at it one way — messy, if you look at it another way — because I just wanted to do as much as I could with the throughline, the goal, and the North Star that I have,” model-entrepreneur-advocate Lauren Chan said during Thursday’s Refinery29 Twitch stream. “[And that] was to make fashion a more inclusive space when it came to size.”
Chan, who appeared in April’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, is a true multihyphenate in every sense of the word, so it’s next to impossible to sum her up in just a few words, but that insight she shared with R29 Entertainment Director and Twitch host Melissah Yang comes pretty close. And her resume proves it.
Growing up in Canada, Chan was an athlete up through university until a health issue forced her onto the bench. Before that, she’d never seen fashion as a possible path in her Asian family, but now she had time to lean into her interests and make it happen. She started out in NYC as a model before becoming a fashion writer with bylines at Vogue, Interview, and the New York Times’ T Magazine. When she eventually landed as the fashion features editor at Glamour, everything started to click. There, she personally owned the plus-size style beat – spearheading efforts to ensure that people of all sizes felt represented in the pages of the magazine — and designed stylish pieces for a collaboration line between Glamour and Lane Bryant. After leaving journalism, she returned to modeling and became an influencer (again, making sure to highlight the issues she’s passionate about) while also launching her brand Henning, a line of covetable plus-size clothing, which was acquired by Universal Standard this spring.
Her most recent evolution is yet another example of Chan letting her North Star guide her: In April, she made history as the first openly queer plus-size Sports Illustrated Swimsuit rookie. Alongside her photos, she penned a thoughtful personal essay in which she publicly came out as a lesbian. When the casting process started for the magazine’s hallmark issue, Chan was going through a divorce and had only come out to people in her personal life. When she sat down to film her self-tape in order to be considered for the shoot, she remembered the many instances of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit going against the most rigid conventions — pushing like Chan has pushed — by featuring people like Ashley Graham, Leyna Bloom, Halima Aden, and now Kim Petras and Martha Stewart. At that moment, she felt this was the right space to share her story in a positive, far-reaching way.
Chan spent months prepping — but not in the way you might expect. She was so focused on and anxious about crafting the essay and doing it justice that she almost forgot about the photo element. It wasn’t about being a picture-perfect example of representation. Chan ultimately wanted to do herself and her coming-out story proud, while reaching people who might be in a similar situation. “The LGBTQ community is so vast and there are many different stories, and mine is new. I hope, first and foremost, there is room for folks who have been here and deserve that platform,” she said. “But had I seen a story like mine that was not so clear, not out and confident, more on the questioning side, a little late in life, already down the road on marriage and all that other stuff, maybe it would have helped me sooner. Maybe I would have felt less alone. I just hope that there are people who resonate with my experience, I get to represent that for them.”
Up next? Chan is continuing to focus on making fashion — and, hopefully, the world — a better place by staying candid, authentic, and passionate. Earlier this week, she shared an IG post spotlighting both the highs and lows in the aftermath of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit launch, opening up about her mental health. But, after years of grinding and holding multiple full-time jobs at once, she also wants to prioritize her own wellbeing for a bit and “allow” herself some rest.
“I kind of let people ask me to do something these days rather than being hella proactive. I stop answering emails after a certain hour. These things may sound silly or inconsequential … but for me it’s kind of revolutionary, so I’m really, really excited about it and feel different,” she said, adding that she wants to purely be passion-driven rather than a bottom line. “I want to relish in that, because that means I get to do all the things I love, like talking to people, connecting with people, making beautiful images and products, and helping people’s lives through the fun stuff that I know and love how to do.”