Joan Smalls on Fashion's Race Problem in Porter’s Summer Issue

Joan Smalls has conquered the runways, pop culture, and social media. She’s been dubbed an Insta-girl by Vogue (and Mario Testino), and crowned a member of Beyonce’s girl group. And now the supermodel—because yes, she’s earned that title—is using her newfound fame to spur much needed conversations. Like race, for example, which is something that can’t really be talked about enough when it comes to the fashion industry (among other things).

In the Summer Escapes issue of Porter magazine, hitting newsstands on Friday, Smalls tells writer Marisa Meltzer,  “It’s a conversation that needs to continue to happen so that people see it as the norm and not some kind of a chore. We have to do this to make people happy. Why not represent the rainbow that we live in? And then women can look at the runway and see themselves.”


Joan Smalls on the cover of Porter magazine, shot by Ryan McGinley. 

Smalls has been open about her climb to the top. “It was really easy for some girls to get booked automatically into an agency, but I had to go to appointment after appointment and a gazillion castings, and sometimes no one looked at me at all,” she says. “I would cry out of frustration because I didn’t understand why. I didn’t want to quit. I’m determined. That’s the fuel for my fire. I’m like, ‘I’m going to show you. Sooner or later you’ll see what happens when you don’t believe in someone.’”

When asked if she thinks that was racism, Smalls says, “God knows…You know, it could have been.”

But she made it, reaching heights beyond even her wildest imagination. Smalls is the first Latin American woman to become the face of Estée Lauder, she’s modeled for every major brand from Givenchy to Chanel, and covered countless Vogues.  In this issue of Porter, Smalls returns home to Hatillo, Puerto Rico, with photographer Ryan McGinley, to pose in this season’s must-have swimwear underneath a series of shearling coats, styled by Alex White. The magazine’s editor in chief, Lucy Yeomans, says, "Joan Smalls is the ultimate Porter cover star. Her story reflects Porter’s core values of inspiring and celebrating women everywhere, and reminds us that being proud of who we are is something we should all strive for.”

“I’m not just one thing: I’m black, I’m Latina. It’s cool that people can see that a person doesn’t fit into a box and isn’t just a category. That’s the message I always try to push out there,” Smalls says. And if anyone can change a perspective, she can.

Pick up the latest issue of Porter to read the entire interview.