Oftentimes when people talk about fashion models, the image that they see in their head is of someone who is tall, either a male or a female, and has a slender body shape. Sure, it's 2017 and plus size models are getting more recognition, but there's a lot more work to be done. To lend a hand to that cause, an inspiring Malaysian woman is choosing to embrace the fact that fashion comes in all forms by featuring models that don't usually get the first pick – transgenders.
Meet Sharmila, a former PR executive who left her job to chase her entrepreneurial dreams. She’s doing fashion full time now with her brand, NATIVESMY
. The fashion entrepreneur recently organised a fashion show for Deepavali headlined by four transgender models and a refugee. The fashion collection is aptly named “Hope”.
Meet Sharmila, the woman behind the cause. (Image: Sharmila/NATIVESMY)
Sharmila ditched PR and began working full time on NATIVESMY since September last year. When asked why she chose to make the career change, she told Rojak Daily
that she’s “a person that needs to do something with a reason” and that something must have a high value that is more than just about setting KPIs or goals. She saw something beyond her desk job and wanted to pursue a goal that will bear a significant meaning to not only her, but also others.
Seeing a potential for change, the 26-year-old then decided to include marginalised communities in her fashion show. She believes that they deserve an equal chance just like everyone else. The idea to feature transgender models was partly inspired by the exposure she received after joining an international NGO. She saw the challenges they faced and wanted to help, even if it made only the smallest impact. “I decided to use NATIVESMY as a platform to empower the marginalised community. My aim is to empower those who fell under that community because these people rarely get a chance to do anything or to get a job due their uniqueness,”
Although her intentions were good, she soon realised that putting that idea in motion wasn't an easy feat. “Finding the models were probably the hardest part. I had to search for them high and low, in every mall in KL and some shops. As for the refugee model, I went to a refugee centre in KL and told them about my cause, which thankfully, they were very supportive of.”
Convincing the models on the other hand, was a different story. “The hardest part was getting them to trust me
. Some of them asked me, 'Why are you doing this for me?', and had some reservations about my intentions.” Fortunately, she managed to change their mind. And all it took was a simple answer – because she cared. As time passed, the models saw the little things Sharmila has been doing to help, which then further helped strengthen their trust and relationship.
One of the models. (Image: Sharmila/NATIVESMY)
Living in Asia, especially in a conservative country like Malaysia, surely Sharmila would be wary of the public backlash that she will face. What about the negative stigma that people will associate with her brand?
Surprisingly, her fashion show delivered an unexpected response – everyone was supportive. According to her, it was “a day filled with good vibes, where dreams came true for some of the models”. Miss Malaysia, Thanuja Ananthan, also showed her support for Sharmila’s cause by giving the models a one-on-one class on how to catwalk and pose prior to the show. As for the negative stigma associated with her brand? Sharmila is not worried about it. In fact, she’s proud to have her brand serve as a platform that helps marginalised community. She is happy that NATIVESMY empowers them and and gives them a chance to be something more.
Miss Malaysia Thanuja Ananthan is a supporter of Sharmila's cause. (Image: weareworthit.lorealparis.com.my)
Ultimately, Sharmila hopes that her decision to cast transgender models will help open more doors and opportunities for the community. "People automatically have a negative stigma or perception of them even before giving them a chance to prove their abilities and skills. It's a shame because [the public] doesn't know that many of them are actually very creative." Since the fashion show, she can already notice a great difference in the models' personalities and a vast improvement in their confidence. One of them even landed a new job due to her involvement in the fashion show!
When asked about her hopes and aspirations for NATIVESMY and the marginalised communities, Sharmila wishes that the masses can see these individuals beyond their gender preference. “I hope that more people and companies will be more open towards accepting these communities and give them the chance they deserve. After all, aren’t we all humans?”
Extending from the fashion show initiative, NATIVESMY has also opened their doors to anyone in these communities who are interested in training with them and serving as their fashion promoters during weekend or festive bazaars.
If anyone is interested in joining Sharmila in her movement, you can contact her via Instagram
or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. We, at Rojak Daily
, is cheering for her!