This Modeling Agency Breaks Beauty Standards

A few weeks ago, TomboyX took part in a revolutionary fashion show put on by DapperQ during New York Fashion Week. We selected many of our models from a New York agency called Zandwagon. Zandwagon breaks beauty standards by representing people from all walks of life. We had the pleasure of interviewing Creative Director Debora Spencer, a force in the fashion world that is seeking to change the way beauty is viewed in the industry.

Interview: Gabi Goyette  Photos: Nomi Ellenson


Can you tell us about your background? 

I have worked in fashion as an art director and photographer since 2000. I have art directed many fashion shoots for major retailers and lines. I have photographed people from all walks of life, President Obama and Carter, Prince Andrew, Maya Angelou, Debbie Harry, Sting, Jinx Monsoon, Ben De La Creme and Violet Chachki among many others. My tagline is, I am a photographer of two presidents and a whole lot of queens.


What made you want to pursue fashion?

Fashion involves my two favorite things, people and art. I love playing with different silhouettes, hair and make up. I am obsessed with hair and make up. Guess that is also why I am always around drag queens.


You’ve been working in the fashion world since 2000. What are the three biggest changes you’ve noticed in the industry in the past 17 years? 

Social media, advertising and digital photography have changed everything. 

Digital photography and Photoshop (which I do lump together) have made retouching a common occurrence - even with grandma’s Facebook. 

Social media is the biggest. It has changed how companies are advertising. It is also making that cool person in some little town, where no one gets them, into influencers of fashion, hair and make up.



What does breaking beauty standards mean to you? 

Our culture with magazines and media has given us the idea that you are a more valuable woman as a twenty something, 5’10”, size 2, light skinned woman who is straight and pleasant. That men are supposed to be straight tough and masculine. That women have to wear make up and men should never. I could go on but you get the picture.
It is time that everyone is represented. That it is cool is your are 4’11”, that you are gorgeous at 72 or that you are beautiful as a size 2x.

Our models do not fit into those boring boxes, much like most people.


What are some brands you think are doing good work when it comes to diversifying the fashion industry? 

Christian Sirano thinks of every woman. Also what TomboyX is doing is very exciting!


What are your hopes and dreams for the future of diversity in fashion? 

Fashion needs to be more inclusive. It is time to stop designing woman’s clothes based on the model size of 5’10” size 2. It is so silly to think that the designers are designing clothes for the smallest demographic of women. And it is truly sad that your average woman is putting that on wondering why they do not feel good about themselves.



How do you choose your models? 

All our models have that “it factor”. They are iconoclasts, it might be obvious with their appearance or not. They have a ground zero kind of style that you have never seen before, suddenly a year later you see it on the runways. Their personalities and opinions are changing and opening up people’s lives.


What are current fashion trends that you’re loving right now? 

To be honest I look at the magazines and the shows, but I do not follow trends. I think they are inspirational, but you should not follow something just because you were told to do so.
If you look at the biggest icons in fashion, the ones who run the magazines and design, they have a uniform look that works for them. They do not follow trends.


What are current fashion trends that you think need to GTFO? 

Following the latest trend without any originality is so boring. Wear what you want, wear what makes you happy!



What is one of your favorite moments you can remember where a barrier was broken on T.V., the runway, a magazine, etc? 

Ashley Graham being on the cover of Vogue was very exciting. 

Jillian Mercado modeling for so many major lines makes me so happy. 

But my favorite was Ellen coming out 20 years ago. She changed everything. It was such a brave and bold movement. They had to do bomb sweeps before tapings of her show because of the threats. But she kept moving. She gave others the inspiration to come out of the closet.

I am going to go on a little side tangent on my feelings about coming out. Straight kids do not have to sit their family down and say they are sexually attracted to someone or having sex. Why do we expect that of gay children? I cannot wait for the day when it just does not matter.


Who in the industry is inspiring you right now? 

Christian Sirano making elegant clothes for all sizes. Nicola Formichetti is amazing, ground breaking. Outside of the fact that he is a gifted artist, he operates without any pretense and a lot of kindness. I would also keep an eye on the career of his assistant Marta Del Rio. 


How do you feel about the progress of fashion diversity? 

I am excited! It is time! 


What are your goals for Zandwagon in the coming years? 

I want our models to inspire the world to know that you are beautiful just as you are.


Tell us in the comments your favorite moment in history when a barrier was broken on T.V., the runway, a magazine, etc.