What Fashion Week is Like for Model and Body Positivity Activist Hunter McGrady

"I'm not even attending any events or any shows that are not inclusive."
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Hunter McGrady (in red, center right) at DSW’s Inclusive Runway Redone Show with Create & Cultivate at Industria backstage with the models in the show. Photo: Smith House Photo/Courtesy of Create & Cultivate

Hunter McGrady (in red, center right) at DSW’s Inclusive Runway Redone Show with Create & Cultivate at Industria backstage with the models in the show. Photo: Smith House Photo/Courtesy of Create & Cultivate

For model Hunter McGrady, fashion month is about more than booking runway shows to stack her portfolio and networking with designers and industry power-brokers. The Los Angeles native, who started modeling as a young teen, has been redefining traditional media standards of beauty since she bucked her agency's size 00 standard at age 19. 

Since then, the body-positivity activist has been featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue three times, debuting as a rookie in 2017 — and back in May, I had the pleasure of flying down to Miami with her on the model-filled jet to celebrate this year's edition. McGrady, who got married in June, also recently made history by covering The Knot and doing her part to advance size inclusivity in the bridal market, which has been slow to change despite the average size of an American woman running between 16 and 18.

Speaking of progress in size inclusivity, New York Fashion Week actually regressed during the Fall 2019 runway season, featuring only 37 plus-size models in comparison to 49 the season prior. Hopefully McGrady's fashion activism efforts for the Spring 2020 season will help make up some ground.

To find out her plans this time around, Fashionista caught up with McGrady backstage before her hosting gig for DSW and Create & Cultivate's Runway Redone show, which featured models — diverse in age, ethnicity, culture, gender identities and abilities — from around the country. 

"There were 4,000 online submissions and we narrowed them down to 10," she explains. "They just had incredible personalities and stories." 

Along with her hosting duties, the activist, model and swimwear designer also walked the runway. Below, McGrady shares how she decides on which brands and designers to support, when she starts assembling her street-style wardrobe and what her most memorable "life-changing" NYFW encounter has been so far.

McGrady (second from left) at the 11 Honoré Fall 2019 show last February. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

McGrady (second from left) at the 11 Honoré Fall 2019 show last February. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

How and when do you start prepping for fashion week?

I would say a month before because, with my agents, we do a huge photoshoot to get our show package comp cards ready. Then I get my mind right and get fit with yoga and meditation. I get myself ready to go because the next two weeks are so chaotic. You're doing 100 things a day.

What do you have planned for NYFW?

So I have The Knot and Kleinfeld panel and [size-inclusive bridal runway show at theCURVYcon] on Friday and then I'm walking in Chromat on Saturday, which is super exciting. My sister is coming into town on Thursday night. Oh my gosh, the next few days are filled with shows and events that I'm taking my sister to, like French Connection and Savage x Fenty

[Runway Redone] is probably one of my favorites that I've been looking forward to though, because it's so diverse. It's what I believe New York Fashion Week should look like and what I believe will be the future of fashion. These girls are so beautiful and excited. This is what fashion is about to me. This is what New York Fashion Week should be about.

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McGrady walks the Chromat Spring 2020 10th anniversary runway show. Photo: Imaxtree

McGrady walks the Chromat Spring 2020 10th anniversary runway show. Photo: Imaxtree

After each fashion season, we all take stock and look back on progress made in inclusivity and diversity across the board, but it's slow. Where do you think we are right now and how do you want to help advance progress this season?

For me, I was really selective. I'm not even attending any events or any shows that are not inclusive. Any time my managers come to me with a show, that's my first question: 'Do they plan to be diverse this season?' If the answer is 'no,' then I won't be there. Because I want to support brands who are giving the right message. Who are doing the right things? That's the kind of fashion I want to support: when people are jumping on the right side of history. It's 2019 and anything less than that is so archaic and I don’t want to be a part of that.

What are you looking forward to supporting this week then?

I'm excited to see brands who are inclusive this season. I'm on my Vogue [Runway] every day. When [designers] have a diverse runway, you know it, because it's everywhere. And that just goes to show how slow we are getting there because it is such a big deal, still. But, I always look really forward to what brands are breaking that barrier and that glass ceiling. 

I really want see some high-end brands get in here and get on the bandwagon that is inclusivity. Although it's not a bandwagon; It's a lifestyle and it's who we are. I look forward to always seeing who does it and I hope I'm pleasantly surprised this season. 

It's important that we support people who are doing it right and also show people who aren't what a success it is.

Speaking of Chromat, how are you preparing for the runway?

I worked Chromat four seasons ago [for Spring 2018] and then I was booked for the last two seasons, but I was sick or I was out of town. This is their 10-year anniversary. I'm currently sick, so I'm taking ginger shots and all those things, getting yourself in the right mindset and knowing that you're making history. Every season, Becca [McCharren-Tran, founder and creative director] does it better and better and she just gets it. 

It's like DSW, they're bringing together people who are diverse — and truly diverse. Not just a token one person. You know, it's true diversity and you can see yourself in everybody who walks the runway.

I know that for models, getting your street style outfits together is important in terms of personal branding. What is your approach to amassing your fashion week wardrobe?

It's so funny. I went to a casting today and there were probably like five paparazzi outside just waiting for girls to go in and out of the casting. I've probably prepared 25 outfits at home, laid out on my table, for each event, each day. Also, with this whole two weeks, you can't wear the same outfit all day. So I'm changing in the car and doing different looks because I know I'm going to get photographed in it and that's going to end up somewhere. 

I start picking outfits out probably six months beforehand, because I'm ordering stuff and working with stylists and shopping and it's a whole long process. Even getting facials, nails and hair and all that stuff, because essentially you're just a big billboard the next two weeks. My husband hates it because there are just boxes coming in. He's like, 'you've gotta stop.'

How do you also take opportunities at fashion week to network and grow your career for the other times of the year? 

That's why going to all the events are so important. My schedule for the next few days: I have an event every half hour. But it is important to make these connections and to go and talk to people. I've never been one who's afraid to go right to the top and say, 'hey, I'm so and so. What's going on and what do you plan on doing that's inclusive?' 

It's always important to connect with people because you never know who you're going to meet. You never know who's going to be in that room who's going to change your life in so many different ways. I always tell models or anybody who's doing fashion week: 'Go out and do those events because it's such a fun opportunity.'

What's the most memorable time in a past fashion week when you've had one of those fortuitous moments that changed your life?

Going to an event and meeting Christian Siriano was amazing. I'm able to pull from him now, which has been awesome for events. Having a connection like that — and someone that you would have never thought in a million years — like, 'oh, there's no way I could even get near Christian Siriano.' And then here you are. He's another one who's doing it big and is incredible.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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