NYC’s first exclusively transgender modeling agency is taking runways by storm

Trans Models' stars share stories on glamour, rejection and what it's like working for a transgender-exclusive agency
Trans Models
Photograph: Luke Fontana
By Leah Faye Cooper |
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Like throngs of young women before her, Peche Di came to New York chasing runway dreams. “I’d drop off my portfolio and never get called back,” says the Thailand native. She faced standard model criticisms (her just-tall-enough five-foot-seven stature, for example), but if you ask her, the rejection likely had to do with being transgender. So last March, Di teamed up with two friends—artist and interior designer Dorothy Palmer and sociology lecturer Roi Ben-Yehuda—and founded Trans Models, an agency solely for transgender talent, one of only three in the country. The company first recruited Di's trans friends, but now it has 19 signed models, two makeup artists (one does hair, too) and a stylist. “I don’t need a lot of models,” says Di. “We’re looking for people who understand our goal.” The models have landed campaigns for Budweiser and Smirnoff, and Di is working on a TV channel and an all-trans fashion show in November. On a breezy Friday afternoon, we join the team in Palmer’s sprawling Union Square loft, which doubles as Trans Models’ office. Beneath high ceilings and huge windows, there are racks of Alice + Olivia, Helmut Lang and Topshop duds and a table covered in a rainbow of eye shadow. The six star models handpicked by Di for our shoot groove to Katy Perry, Drake and Beyoncé, but they’re total professionals. Next, Di & Co. will be heading to New York Fashion Week in February, and there are even whispers of an upcoming reality series. Not bad for an eight-month-old company.

Peche Di
Photograph: Luke Fontana

Peche Di, founder and model

A beauty queen who started taking estrogen at age 16, Di moved to NYC in 2010 and had her big break in 2014 when she starred with Laverne Cox (heard of her?) in Barneys’ spring campaign, shot by Bruce Weber. Now the 26-year-old, who studied filmmaking at New York University and lives in Union Square, spends her days fielding inquiries from aspiring models as far away as Nepal and Sweden—and comments from her 60,000 Instagram followers. “Trans people have high unemployment rates,” she says, “so I want to use fashion as a platform to change the world.”

Kita UpdiKe
Photograph: Luke Fontana

Kita Updike, stylist and model

“Clothing became a way for me to appear the way I wanted to,” says the Indiana native, 23, who’s used her outfits as an expressive outlet for as long as she can remember. “Fashion is really intertwined with our emotions and how we perceive ourselves.” At 15, she asked her parents if she could go to boarding school as a girl. “They said no, but I did it anyway,” she says. “I see people like Caitlyn Jenner, and I don’t understand how they put on that facade for so long.” The FIT grad, who has styling gigs with V Magazine and Vogue Hommes under her belt, has now plunged into the modeling world after signing with Di in July. 

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Vikki Le
Photograph: Luke Fontana

Vikki Le, model

Le came to New York with just $200, spending two weeks sleeping in the subway and working at a Korean restaurant. “I wouldn’t recommend it,” she says, “but it worked for me.” In early July, Le, 26, met Di through a mutual friend and signed with Trans Models that month. She now lives in Harlem and will host the agency’s soon-to-launch Spill the T with Vikki Le, a humorous YouTube series that will also address serious political issues. “There have always been trans people; they just didn’t have the outlets and support that we do now,” she says. “Just because we’re more visible now doesn’t mean it’s a trend.”

Evalyn Jake
Photograph: Luke Fontana

Evalyn Jake, model

The 17-year-old Michigan native has yet to finish high school (she studies online so she can go at her own pace), but she’s sure of her identity—in seventh grade, she told her parents that she “didn’t feel right.” Jake started taking testosterone blockers two years ago, and “people wanted me to put a label on who I was. [I was asked] rude, naïve questions,” she says. “But over time, people became more comfortable.” This summer, she spent a week in NYC looking for an agency. After a string of nos, Trans Models said yes. “This awesome sense of confidence comes with modeling, and I thrive on it,” she says. Jake plans to live in New York after her graduation in May.

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Torraty Singanipar
Photograph: Luke Fontana

Torraty Singanipar, hairstylist and makeup artist

Coming from Thailand, Singanipar’s first months in the city were lonely—she bartended at a Queens Thai restaurant and struggled to meet friends. That changed when the 32-year-old, who lives in Union Square, got a gig assisting legendary makeup artist Bank Natdanai, and today, her résumé includes shoots for Harper’s Bazaar and Numéro. “Things are getting better,” she says of being trans in the fashion world, “but I’ve definitely dealt with people having a bad attitude and not wanting to work with me.” Next, she’s planning her own beauty brand—“and I know I’m capable of that.”

Tiq Milan
Photograph: Luke Fontana

Tiq Milan, model

Modeling isn’t new to GLAAD national spokesperson Milan, but you probably wouldn’t recognize his early work. “I was very feminine,” he says of his teenage years. A former hip-hop journalist, he started transitioning in 2008. “Walking through the world as a masculine-presenting woman wasn’t satisfying. It didn’t feel congruent to the person I knew I was inside.” He also simultaneously delved into LGBTQ advocacy: “We’ve been the silent T in LGBT,” the Parkchester resident says. “Telling our stories humanizes us and challenges these myths that, in some kind of way, our existence is deceiving other people.”

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Allex Knight
Photograph: Luke Fontana

Allex, model

“I want to be on that Calvin Klein billboard on Houston and Lafayette in some jeans and CK underwear, showing off my tats and muscles,” says the model. “That’s the dream.” Growing up with a religious, church-going family in Maryland, he had a “complete rejection of anything female" by age 15. Now, the 27-year-old Bed-Stuy resident models and works as an associate producer for MTV. He found Trans Models via Instagram and reached out because Di “wanted to help trans-identified individuals have an opportunity that isn’t really out there for us.”

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