Barrier-Breaking Model Saje Nicole Makes Her NYFW Debut & Talks Representation

By Gabrielle Pharms | February 15, 2022

From runway shows to glossy magazine spreads, the fashion industry has been notorious for its lack of diversity. However, in recent years, efforts have been made to increase awareness and representation within the fashion world – with model Saje Nicole being an excellent example of just how beautiful inclusivity can be when it’s welcomed. Nicole is the first Haitian-American model featured in the coveted Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Moreover, she’s appeared in campaigns for Skims by Kim Kardashian and is the face of Heidi Klum’s new hit show Making the Cut.

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Nicole is currently signed by Natural Model Management in L.A. and Wilhelmina Models in Miami and New York. Last week marked Nicole’s debut at New York Fashion Week as the headliner of the Dur Doux show. “This is a huge deal because I have always imagined myself on that runway. I've always adored the different models and designers that come together to make NYFW as iconic as it is,” Nicole tells EDITION. “It's not necessarily set up for someone my size, color, or background to be in this industry, but that is precisely why this is so important. It has been pretty exclusive and reserved for a specific market and certain types of models for a long time. Everything in life must evolve, and I'm thrilled to witness the evolution in the fashion industry.”

We had the opportunity to catch up with Nicole post-show to learn more about her view of the industry and how being true to herself is helping to drive change in the fashion space.

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See more: The Ultimate New York Fashion Week Survival Kit, Curated By Leading Style Influencer

As the industry takes strides in addressing representation, in what ways do you feel like you're playing your part in bettering the fashion world's climate?

Thank you, this is an excellent question because growing up, Naomi and Tyra were able to inspire me and create a space for me by just being there. When I saw them, I saw me. No explanation needed. Now that I am in this space and creating new opportunities for up-and-coming models, I feel the need to represent well and talk about my journey – what it took for me to get here, and how others can do it as well. Openness and transparency add to your brand and allow people to connect with you more. So, I believe transparency, honesty, and staying true to your message are crucial to changing this fashion industry or any industry’s climate.

What were your initial reactions when you first received the call that you'd be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue? Did you feel a certain amount of pressure?

I was ecstatic! I had a huge career goal coming to life, so naturally, I felt immense pressure! I worked hard to get there and wanted to make sure I was fully prepared for what was coming with it. However, the staff at SI told us to remain calm and not change anything about ourselves or our bodies, which is why they chose us to begin with. That made me feel so happy and allowed me to remain calm and do what I've been doing to get me there—working out daily, eating good, meditating, and mentally preparing for this amazing opportunity – because I deserved it.

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What does walking the runway at NYFW mean to you?

It means the world to me! I've been practicing and preparing for this moment since I was a child. My cousins and I would host fashion shows in the family living room, serving oranges slices as hors d'oeuvre. We thought we were putting on a full production at the time. Little did I know, I was just prepping for this very moment. I'm very happy and very excited to see what the future holds for me and the fashion industry as a whole.

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Whether it's modeling or venturing into new territories, what are some goals you are hoping to achieve this year?

One of the many things I love about my career is the opportunity for growth and diversification. We see so many models go from runway to the movies, entrepreneurship or motherhood. I hope to take my career onto the big screen. I am currently studying with a fantastic acting coach and perfecting my craft. So, hopefully, you will see me on the big screen soon.

What advice would you give your younger self that still applies to you now as a model?

Be bold! If someone says no, you're just asking the wrong person. When you desire something, it's because you have all the capabilities to achieve it. So dream big, spread love, and go after your dreams with full force.

Photography by: Giano Currie; Sports Illustrated Swimsuit/Yu Tsai; Caleb and Gladys; Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images