AWT recently caught up with the three of the five models of ALDA, a group of women who came together with the goal of reforming the modeling industry after their former employer, Ford, closed its plus-size division. While Marquita Pring and Ashley Graham were occupied with shoots, Danielle Redman, Inga Eiriksdottir and Julie Henderson made time to talk to us about what prompted them to start ALDA, and what inspires them to take their mission a step further.
The models weren’t sure what kind of reception they’d get from other agencies after Ford’s surprise shut-down. So it was a pleasant surprise when big players in the high-fashion industry appeared eager to sign them—five models who didn’t fit within the rigid limits known as “straight size.” Industry executives realized they needed to align themselves with what real women wanted to see: “less photoshopped work, more natural beauty and different sizes and shapes,” as Inga describes it. It was the “perfect time to really push for [a change].” After months of meetings the group settled on IMG Models, the agency that represents big-name players like Heidi Klum.
With new power over their own careers, the ALDA models chose to turn their exposure into a “platform” for doing more than taking nice pictures. “Modeling is great, but there’s gotta be some kind of purpose of greater good and not just being pretty,” says Julie. The models dedicate time to charity work, including co-hosting events with Komera, a non-profit dedicated to helping girls in impoverished areas of Rwanda attend school, learn business skills and empower their communities. “They’re all really helping their own community grow, which is really exciting and really beautiful to see,” says Danielle, who has previously visited the city of Kadali and plans to return next June. They also work with young women at the Lower Eastside Girls’ Club and New Image Camp, teaching self-acceptance, healthy body image and techniques for a better selfie.
ALDA is part of a larger movement to change the modeling industry and the way women think about their bodies—an evolution that is yet to be completed.
The following is an edited version of AWT’s interview with Julie, Danielle and Inga.
AWT: Tell me the story of how ALDA got started.
Inga: When Ford closed the Plus division over a year ago I contacted the rest of the group members, and actually one more who ended up not going with us, and we all started meeting to see if there was some opportunity we could make out of this, whether it be start our own agency or go with another agency—how we could make this kind of breakdown into a breakthrough for us in our careers. We’d all been with the plus-size division at Ford but we were all passionate about wanting to change the idea of plus and straight size so there was no barriers between the two. We wanted to be considered models and we would change the fashion industry so they would start using wider size and race diversity in high fashion and in the shows.
So we did a lot of meetings for about six months. We met with all the major modeling agencies in New York. Most of them actually never have had plus before, so that was our new thing and we worked with Studio 55 to help us come up with a marketing strategy and a business plan. We liked IMG the best out of the group with what our mission and goal was to help us push that forward.
AWT: How would you define ALDA?
Inga: That keeps evolving. The goal was to have an impact on the fashion industry and now we have a way bigger goal. We want to empower young girls and teach them about body image and have impact not only within the fashion industry but, more importantly, outside the fashion industry, so that women can see more body diversity and accept their own bodies and be healthier at every size. And see that you don’t have to obsess about being skinny to look good and be beautiful.
AWT: I want to throw out a few words and have you respond to them—free associate, whatever comes to mind. The first word is “anxiety.”
Julie: Just like, whatever we think of when you say “anxiety?”
Inga: For me I think of right away like stress and sleepless nights. I think of things that would relieve that—yoga, meditation, physical activity. But what gives me anxiety is sometimes, not so much anymore, constant traveling and airplanes.
Julie: What gives me anxiety is not knowing where my next meal’s going to come from. When I travel sometimes, I have all these food allergies, I’m afraid I won’t be able to find my next meal.
Danielle: Or it won’t be good. That’s a good one. That’s true.
Julie: Like on a plane or on a flight—they won’t have anything gluten-free! Or they have bad meat on the plane.
AWT: When you’re not in Brooklyn it can be hard to find gluten free.
Danielle: I think of my to-do list. It’s always never ending. Like, ahhh, I haven’t done that yet!
AWT: Totally get that. Totally agree. So the next word I want to throw out is “feminism.”
Danielle: I think of every woman. I think every woman is naturally a feminist. And I think some of them are just not really confident in knowing what it actually is and what it actually means, and we’re like, oh, that means a bad thing. But I think we all, at the end of the day, are [feminists].
Julie: I think that being authentic to who we really are as women. The power of women together, which we don’t realize half the time. Unity. There’s a certain power of women that we don’t even know how powerful we are. Feminism is the force that reminds us of who we are. Used in the right way, of course. There are different aspects of it.
Inga: When people ask me what my definition of feminism is, it’s that they see that there is inequality in the world, they want to do something about it. They want to have an impact and change it.
AWT: That’s great. So my next word is “empowerment.”
Inga: That’s correct.
Danielle: I think empowerment means accepting your self-worth and knowing what your self-worth is and embracing it, embracing who you really are and what we can actually do.
Inga: And I think being fearless and helping others feel fearless and stuck outside of their comfort zone is very empowering.
Julie: I think of women coming together. Feminism is a form of empowerment if used in a positive light, of us being authentic to who we really are, is why we came down on this earthly plane. And I think women coming together and not competing, actually embracing the differences and embracing who we are and that we’re each meant to leave our own mark.
AWT: Absolutely. And then the last word in this free association exercise is “objectification.”
Julie: Construction workers.
Julie: I mean, it’s a word that I haven’t really worried about. If you’re empowered, who cares if you’re objectified? You know, people look at you as a model, you’re just a model and you’re just there, but if you know who you are it’s just kind of white noise in the background, in my opinion. It depends how rooted you are in yourself if it affects you or not. It’s all going to affect you, but [the question is] how deeply.
Danielle: I agree. I agree with you.
Inga: Yeah, and as models, we are objects. But we see that we are more than that. We are a lot more than that. So I never think of it as being objectified. But I’ve also done it a long time and grown up in it. I think of myself as, I’m a person, modeling is something I do. It’s my job, but it’s not who I am.
Photos by Vogue.com/Cass Bird (featured image) & Elise Gannett