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Capital Conversations: Confidence is Everything

By Juliette Humphreys | October 23, 2022

Photo Credit: Aolana Taylor

On Aug. 20, Aolana Taylor strutted down a runway in the Colonie Center Mall for the first time in a hand-made rainbow jumpsuit she helped make with hearts hugging every curve of her 6-foot-2-inch plus-size body. At the end of the runway, in front of hundreds of on-lookers, Taylor looked behind her toward her friends who had come to cheer her on.

Now, two months later, Taylor, wearing her model-off-duty look of a sweatshirt, jeans, and Uggs, blushed with pride at the thought of her first runway moment.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve never seen my size in magazines or TV shows,” Taylor said. “And, I’m really tall. I’ve never seen my tall height on a woman anywhere. Same with Black representation. I felt like we didn’t get a chance.”

Taylor is one of a growing, yet still small number of Black models in the U.S. According to Zippia, a career insight platform, Black and African American ethnicities comprise 10.6% of the industry, while Hispanic and Latinos are 14.5% The remainder are predominately white, a reflection of the body type and skin color that modeling agencies historically tend to look for.

But as audiences for fashion evolve, so too has the modeling industry, and Taylor said one of her goals is to help diversify both, by making clothes and showing them off to crowds.

“It never seemed like I could ever find tall clothing for a plus size woman. So I was like, ‘oh, maybe I could make it.’ So I started making jeans for my tall queens. And that's how I really got into fashion,” Taylor said.

The transition of making clothes to modeling them was an easy choice, said Taylor, who added that she first knew she wanted to be on the runway two years ago when she was noticed by fashion designer Antoinette Lawson, who saw the long-legged beauty working in a department store.

“I am a really confident woman, like, I know I can do this,” said Taylor, who added that Lawson, whose social justice oriented clothing brand, "Women With Voices," quickly became her mentor.

Photo Credit: Aolana Taylor

With its bold colors and patterns, "Women With Voices" is a traveling on-site production company founded in 2006. Lawson said the motive of her clothing is to “being the voice for the voiceless, and addressing inequality by using original theatrical productions and other media to speak about social issues” such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, substance abuse, mental and physical health issues, and other issues affecting several communities. Taylor said that Lawson taught her runway techniques and gave her “an extra boost of confidence.”

“She was like, ‘you can do this,’ because she was previously a model. She's done this before. And she does give me tips and ideas. I'm learning her business,” Taylor said.

For Lawson, Taylor modeled the designer’s African prints in one of Lawson’s boutiques in the Colonie Center Mall. “I love the prints and I love the colorfulness and I love that I can make myself shine through all of the pieces she lets me wear, even if they aren’t my personal style.”

Photo Credit: Aolana Taylor

Taylor said her own clothing style is "streetwear:" more casual, neutral and urban. It’s more common amongst young people; nothing like the bright oranges and reds that glitter across the runway of Lawson’s shows.

Still, she doesn’t doubt that she looks great in anything. “These new clothes kind of bring me out of my comfort zone, too. I'm not really a girly girl. But I could get girly when I want to be. The last fashion show, Antoinette gave me a skirt and I don't wear skirts and high boots. So, it got me out of my comfort zone. I'm kind of glad it did.”

When it comes to wearing outfits she doesn’t personally like, Taylor has a simple answer: “The show must go on.

Her advice to anyone wanting to follow through on dream?

“Don’t give up. Get your confidence up because once your confidence is up, nobody can tell you nothing. Be you. “

Taylor’s next fashion show will be in late November at the Colonie Center Mall.


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