Jillian Mercado is a disabled Latinx model who has appeared in campaigns for Nordstrom and Target and on the cover of Teen Vogue. She is signed with IMG and acts as an advocate for greater representation in the industry.
Growing up, Mercado developed a love for fashion, but the industry’s Eurocentric and ableist beauty standards meant that she didn’t see herself represented. A native New Yorker born to Dominican parents and diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in her early teens, she resolved to redress this inequality by entering the fashion industry herself. She studied a degree in marketing at FIT, going on to intern at Allure magazine in a bid to “learn the politics behind fashion so I could hire people who looked like me,” she said at Women of the World’s 10th annual summit.
Beyond occasionally modelling for fellow students’ projects while at FIT, Mercado’s first modelling gig was in a campaign for denim brand Diesel in 2014. The following year, she was signed with IMG Models and has since appeared in campaigns for Nordstrom, Target and Olay, which saw Mercado’s image feature on a billboard in Times Square.
She also modelled merchandise for Beyoncé’s Formation world tour and has featured in editorials for Glamour, Cosmopolitan and CR Fashion Book. In 2018, Mercado became the first disabled cover star of Teen Vogue, featuring in the magazine’s digital September issue.
Mercado uses her platform to push for greater representation in the industry, saying in an interview with Bustle “I just hope that [underrepresented people] see themselves in me, in any way possible.” Her activism, which focuses on the intersection of gender and disability, has included working with UN Secretary-General António Guterres in 2018 to reduce inequality, one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.