(文末附上英文訪談內容/ English version of this interview is down below.)
2020春夏的紐約時裝週上，講究多元性以及包容性的泳裝品牌 Chromat，剛結束了一場讓場內觀眾群情鼓舞的大秀，Chromat 以跨性別、大尺碼、孕婦、孩童、身心障礙等各種溢出一般「伸展台模特兒」想像的人來展示他們的最新設計。大秀結束後，我看著 Jillian Mercado 一個人安安靜靜地自己操縱著輪椅離開。少了嘻笑、拍照、蹭熱度等大多數跑秀人士的標配，她的非典型在紐約時尚圈裡獨樹一幟。
↑身體上的障礙並未阻止 Jillian Mercado 勇敢追求自己的夢想。
今年33歲的 Jillian Mercado，是知名模特兒經紀公司IMG旗下的模特兒之一，同時也是演員、意見領袖與時尚多元性的倡議者。她跟一般的模特兒有點不一樣——由於肌肉萎縮症，從小就坐著輪椅長大，然而身體上的障礙並未阻止她勇敢追求自己的夢想，她曾被《Vogue》、《Glamour》、《Cosmopolitan》、《CR Fashion Book》等各大時尚雜誌報導過，甚至登上《Posture》雜誌的封面。身體、種族以及年齡，都不能阻止她追求她想做的事。
Jillian Mercado 是個多明尼哥裔、土生土長的紐約客，爸爸是鞋廠業務，媽媽則是裁縫。Jillian 的媽媽常常會把工作帶回家，小 Jillian 不和兩個妹妹們一起看卡通，反倒選擇坐在媽媽身旁，看著她變魔術般將布料變成立體的衣服，小 Jillian 也會提出許多問題，像是「這是什麼布料？」、「為什麼會選擇這個顏色？」Jillian 對於時尚的熱忱彷彿從小小年紀就由那一針一線織就。
2006年她進入了紐約知名時尚學院 FIT（Fashion Institute of Technology）的時尚商品管理（Fashion Merchandising）學系就讀，學習商業層面的知識，在學期間，她也盡可能藉由不同部門的實習，更進一步了解時尚產業究竟在做些什麼，而 Jillian 對於時尚史以及時尚雜誌百科全書式的理解與認識，讓她的同學鼓勵她開始寫部落格，除了分享她所知道的時尚故事，也紀錄她個人大膽前衛的穿搭風格。
Jillian 人生中的第一個企劃，是和一個名為《We The Urban》的線上雜誌合作，在一次《We The Urban》的活動中，她遇到了義大利知名牛仔褲品牌 Diesel 的創意總監，而那次的相遇是她在時尚產業裡的轉捩點，引領了她在2014年通過 Diesel 的選秀，成為品牌當期廣告企劃的模特兒之一，那是 Jillian Mercado 第一次大型的廣告拍攝。這個企劃也讓旗下有著許多知名超模，如 Gigi Hadid、Bella Hadid、Hailey Bieber、Cara Delevingne 的 IMG 模特兒公司在隔年簽下她，並於2016年成為 Beyoncé 官方網站企劃中唯三模特兒中的其中一人。2018年，她參與了保養品牌 Olay 的 Face Anything 廣告，有著她的人像的大型廣告看板而後被刊登在曼哈頓最熱鬧繁華的時代廣場。
Jillian Mercado 的故事向世界證明，時尚不分種族、性別、身體、信仰，時尚屬於所有人。
「接受專業的時尚教育對於妳進入時尚產業有幫助嗎？是否可以分享一下妳在 FIT 的就學經驗？」
『每個人的經驗不同，我只能分享我自己的經驗。只能說，FIT 的學習經驗對我往後在時尚產業發展的幫助極大。受時尚學院的教育讓你能不用置身其中就可以窺見時尚產業的樣貌，也讓你知道如果你真的想投身時尚行業，會是什麼樣子。在 FIT 就讀的四年，我學到了各種需要知道的時尚商業面的知識，而 FIT 絕大多數的教授都身經時尚產業槍林彈雨的洗禮，他們的第一手經驗分享，也將時尚產業渲染上了一些個人經驗，甚至是人情味。簡單來說，我覺得專業的時尚教育對我幫助很大。』
↑Jillian Mercado 曾經跟一些最有創意、最有才華也最投入的人一起工作過，他覺得能遇見那些美好的人們大概是在時尚產業工作最好的一件事。
｜主角級的穿衣哲學｜ 「做衣如做人」，要學會穿什麼衣，得先學會什麼人穿什麼衣。 我不追逐流行，不遵循趨勢，我相信人是用個性在穿衣服，而完整的性格展露，全在電影服裝裡。 用三分歷史，七分想像，在找尋個人風格的路上，Yutopia跟你，一起看電影。 恨比較容易痊癒，但愛才能讓人釋懷 上
↑多明尼哥裔、在紐約土生土長的 Jillian Mercado。
疫情當前，加之紐約又是重災區，很遺憾沒能和 Jillian 親自見面，面對面聊聊她在時尚產業闖蕩的歷程，然而透過幾次的信件往返，Jillian 的自信流露在她的字裡行間。她相信自己的獨一無二，相信自己與身俱來被賦予了任務——一個讓時尚產業更多元、更包容的使命。她希望透過她的努力、她的聲音，讓像她一般對時尚有憧憬但身體有障礙的人士，也能毫不保留地透過時尚展現個人的想法與創意。
2020年，病毒的肆虐讓整個時尚產業瞬間傾頹，Dries van Notan 夥同其他設計師，要求時尚產業重新正視時尚已經發展得過於快速的事實，他提出讓時尚的季節與真實的季節接軌，而這樣一來也可以推遲各大百貨、通路的季末折扣，進而提高品牌的利潤。2020年的這場災難或許會是整個時尚產業重組的好時機，也或許，產業裡多元性與包容性的課題，能因此再被落實得更徹底一些。
After the curtain fell and the cheering of Chromat’s Spring Summer 2020 show faded, I saw Jillian Mercado quietly wheeling herself out of Spring Studio. She didn’t gather around with other influencer friends to continuously take selfies and chit chat like most of the show-goers did. She just came to the show to support the brand embracing inclusivity and diversity. Fame and titles were not what she looked for when she decided to devote herself into fashion. She puts herself in the fashion frontline because she loves it, and because she knows she can make a difference in how the industry perceives disability.
The 33-year-old model, actress and activist is different from the models we intuitively picture. Due to muscular dystrophy, Jillian Mercado grew up with her wheelchair, but her disability didn’t stop her from pursuing what she always wanted: participate in fashion. She has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, CR Fashion Book and more. She was once the face of Posture Magazine. In 2014, she landed on her first commercial campaign with Italian denim brand Diesel. The next year, she was signed by IMG Models, the international major model agency also managing all the big names: Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid, Hailey Bieber, Cara Delevingne, the list goes on. In 2016, Mercado was announced one of the three models to be featured in the campaign of Beyoncé’s official website. She was on a gigantic billboard in Times Square in Olay’s Face Anything campaign in 2018. Not to mention she has starred in several campaigns for Nordstrom and other major players in the fashion and beauty industry.
How did she achieve all these?
Jillian Mercado is a born and raised New Yorker with Dominican ancestry. Mercado’s father is a shoe salesman in Lower Manhattan, while her mother is a seamstress. Unlike her two sisters who would go on to watch cartoons, Mercado instead would sit beside her mother to watch her sew, asking questions like “What is the fabric? Why did you pick the color?” Her passion for fashion has been sewn into her blood in her upbringing.
Mercado attended FIT in the Fashion Merchandising program in 2006 learning everything business-related, while interning in various departments and teams in the fashion industry to familiarize herself with the real world of the industry. She also started her blog writing about fashion and documenting her personal style with the encouragement of her friends in FIT. She scored her first project with an online magazine called WE THE URBAN. During an event of the magazine, Mercado met the creative director of the Italian denim brand Diesel, which was the turning point for her in her career. One thing leads to another. And the rest is history.
Mercado’s story proves to the world that fashion indeed belongs to everyone, no matter one’s race, ethnicity, age, body and gender, as long as you work hard enough.
The Path to Fashion
Do you think fashion education helps you get into the fashion industry? What’s your experience at FIT?
“I can only speak for myself, but it absolutely did. Studying in a fashion school enables you to be in the scene and peak into the industry without actually being in it. It also gives you a glimpse of what it would be like if you actually work in the industry. Going to FIT taught me all the tools about the business side of fashion. All the professors were actually people who have worked in the industry before and retired, so that gave me a different perspective when seeing fashion, a more personal one.”
You’ve mentioned multiple times in previous interviews that you’re very strategic in pursuing your dream and achieving what you want. How will you describe your strategy, or say, what’s the most important trait/personality that helps you achieve where you are right now?
“My strategies are very personal. They are curated to make me achieve what I want in life, which I knew at a very young age. But I think that I just truly understand my value and worth in the world as a model, an actress or an advocate. I use that energy to study and become familiar with the industry, and then I dress accordingly to where I need to go. It's all about knowing your personal brand inside and out.”
As we know, you have been falling in love with fashion since very little and have been devoting yourself into it for years. Is there any point in life that you feel like fashion fails you? If so, how do you cope with that feeling? How do you know fashion is “the thing” for you while the reality of the industry somehow devours people of their passion and dreams?
“Absolutely all the time. There are times when I just want to quit, but that's just normal. Everybody goes through stages where they just want to throw in the towel. But as I said in my previous answer, I know my personal value and know what I can bring to the industry, which is unique and one-of-a-kind. So when things fail, which they will, I cope with a feeling by letting it happen. Whatever I am feeling, I allow myself to feel. It's only human to do so. But I pick myself up, and I talk to the people who inspire me the most to give me advice. I am lucky enough to have an amazing support system of family and friends.
Sometimes the fashion industry can absolutely feel like it devours people's hopes and dreams. But I do my best not to look at it in a negative light so much or I’ll never succeed. The industry has given me so many amazing opportunities and platforms where I can express my creativity. I'm a creative person and there's nothing more creative that I can think of than the industry of fashion. It's all about the team that you surround yourself with. I personally have a team of people who believe in my craft and push me forward to allow me to be as creative as possible, to push my dreams and passions forward.”
What’s the best and worst thing you’ve ever encountered working in fashion?
“The best thing is definitely the people who work in fashion. The people I have had the privilege to work with are the most dedicated and creative people I know. They see way outside of the box where many have trouble accessing. The worst thing probably has to be the lack of understanding of how people like myself who have disabilities should be able to comfortably work and be seen in the industry where we also take a part as consumers.”
Diversity and Inclusivity Within the Fashion Industry
Do you feel like nowadays inclusivity and diversity has become a trendy and even a marketing tool for brands to win people’s attention? How will you interpret the current climate of diversity and inclusion in fashion?
“I can absolutely see how anybody can see that. But I also have to acknowledge that we have to start somewhere. So even though it may seem like this, it might be the one thing we can work on right now. Brands and companies actually understand that inclusivity and diversity is important not only for the industry, but for everyone. We'll have to continue to use this ‘marketing tool’ to get more people’s attention. But in the long run, if this is just a trend for brands to do so, then people (the public) will see it. Nobody likes an unauthentic brand.”
From your perspective, what’s a better narrative and execution to address inclusivity and diversity in fashion?
“It's extremely simple. Just to listen, listen to the communities that need to be highlighted which have been invisible for the longest time. If you actually want to be diverse and include everyone, you have to listen to others, give them the platform in front of the scenes, but most importantly the positions behind the scenes, and truly understand that it is the way to go. If you are a company for the public, it should reflect in your advertising. Listen to the communities being affected the most and hire them. Everything starts just by listening.”
What does it mean to you as a pioneer in bringing diversity into fashion?
“It means that I have a unique perspective that many if not all people have. Understanding that I use it to push forward the idea that people like myself who have disabilities should be able to work in the industry, that disability should never stand in the way of that.”
Some Personal Touches
As a disabled Latina model, what will you tell people of color and people with disabilities to do to score their spot in the ever-evolving yet hierarchical fashion industry?
“Work, study, and work some more, so that when you get the opportunity of that interview or job of your dream, there will be no excuse for them not to hire you and involve you in the industry. With that said, I do have to warn that we will always have to work twice as hard as any other individual. And once you understand that, you can beat their lack of acknowledgment for the disability community. People of color already get undermined by their excellence, but yet we prove everyone every single day how intelligent and worth we are to the industry. Adding disability to the Miss is just another layer of working hard until this question is no longer one to ask.”
How do you deal with hate comments and messages? What’s your take on physical bullying and online bullying? Do you have any experience you could share with us?
“I don't have time for that, so I don't involve or engage in any hate comments. Also if it's directly on my profile, I just delete and block. I'm too old to fall for negative comments to ruin my day. I'm on a mission and no one can stop that. There are many experiences, unfortunately. I've been in this situation, but it all came down to people projecting their fears and insecurities towards me. They saw that I was absolutely okay to be someone who has a visible physical disability and their fears and insecurities took over. Bullying altogether should stop.”
As a New Yorker, how do you feel about New York City? How would you describe the city to people who’ve never been here before?
“New York is my home, my Sanctuary, where I was born and raised. He holds such a special heart to me. I would describe the city as being a world of its own. There is no place in the world like New York where you can find every single type of race, ethnicity, religion, ability living on one island, a place where you can find an Ethiopian restaurant at 3 in the morning.”
How do you define fashion? What does fashion mean to you?
“Fashion is an outlet to a world of creativity where it connects to people around the world. It's a language of its own that we all have access to. fashion is what I breathe, eat and sleep every single day.”
Jillian Mercado is indeed one of a kind - she’s confident, characteristic and she believes she has a mission to accomplish, a mission to push the fashion industry to be more inclusive and diverse. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging the whole world and crippling the fashion industry, it is perhaps a great time to rethink fashion and realign the whole system. Inclusivity and diversity might be core to the redefinition of the fashion industry.
◎Photo Via：INSTAGRAM, Jillian Mercado