Anjali Lama broke the glass ceiling and emerged as the first-ever transgender to walk the ramp in India, in 2017, for Lakme Fashion Week. Since then, there has been no looking back the 34-year-old model, who advocates for equal rights for the LGBTQ community, every chance she gets.
Lama has had a remarkable journey in the world of fashion and beauty thus far, and it seems like there’s no stopping her stellar career graph. After making history by walking the ramp as a transgender model for Lakme Fashion Week two years ago, earlier this year Lama bagged a prominent campaign with one of fashion’s biggest brands: Calvin Klein. With the help of Feat.Artists, an artist agency that has always supported the LGBTQAI community, as well as her management team at this agency, Lama was able to spread her wings into a whole new domain of modeling. This campaign, which was launched in March of this year, celebrated women from all walks of life — Lama was one of these remarkable women.
Brown Girl Magazine got the chance to chat with Lama herself about her life, her work as a model, and her advocacy for the LGBTQ community. Here’s what she said in this exclusive interview:
What was life like growing up?
I grew up in a village far from the city. My father was a farmer and with seven children to feed, he had hard times while we were growing up. Since my childhood, I always took an interest in household work and would roam around with my sisters and mother. People taunted me for spending time with the womenfolk and behaving like a girl. In school too, I befriended the girls more easily and hung out with them more often. I was bullied for this. I was depressed but did not give up studying. We had to walk 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening for school, but I carried on because education seemed like the only way out. I came to the capital, after I completed 10th grade, to join college and earn for my education.
When did you first start identifying yourself as a transgender woman?
I knew since my childhood — I had realized that I have been trapped in the wrong body. It was in 2005 when I visited one of the community centers in the capital where I went through counseling and came to know about the term transgender and people like me.
When you finally felt free to be your true self, what types of reactions did you get from the people around you?
Although I knew about myself since my childhood, the only question I had to myself was: ‘Do I have some disorder or problem?’ When I came to know about being transgender and met other transgenders in 2005, there was no looking back. I started my transition from then but I hadn’t shared anything about my transmission with my family and relatives. My family came to know about this from someone else in my village and they asked me about everything, that’s when I admitted to it. There was a minute of silence from them and they told me everything between me and them was finished — I was disowned. At that time, my mother said to me, ‘I know you from when you were a child, and I don’t know whether I am doing the right thing or wrong, but I advise you to stay on the right track and be true.’ Those words gave me motivation and support.
Talk to us about the work you’ve done to bring more awareness to transgender rights.
I started LGBTI advocacy and awareness work in 2006, with an organization from Kathmandu, and have raised community issues in different forms and places. Though I am not affiliated with any organization, for the time being, I continue to advocate for transgender and LGBTQ rights through my social media platforms.
How has modeling impacted your fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ community?
It has impacted my fight for equality in various ways. It’s also been a platform to advocate and share my thoughts about community issues and challenges.
How did you get into modeling? What was your first modeling assignment?
I never came to the capital to be a model. My friends’ circle and people used to compliment me about my height and physique saying I should be a model. My first break came in 2009 when a magazine called Voice of Women put me on their cover. I thought I would get more chances and opportunities after this, but days went by and nothing happened. Then I joined a modeling agency and enhanced myself and my skills. My first professional ramp show was in 2010.
You became the first-ever transgender model to walk Lakme Fashion Week in 2017. How did that feel? How did you get the opportunity?
It makes me very proud to be a Lakme model. I was rejected in the first two auditions I gave; I finally made it into their pool of models after the third audition. I always took my failure as a process to learn and develop myself.
I have walked for the top designers of India such as Tarun Tahillani, Rohit Bal, Falguni Shane Peacock, Manish Malhotra, Monica Jaysing, Sabyasachi, Abujani Sandeep Khosla, Rajesh Pratap Singh, and Gaurav Gupta, to name a few.
You walked Lakme Fashion Week Winter Festive 2019 earlier this year. Which was your favorite social cause that was addressed this year at LFW?
The one that I liked most was Project SU.RE — India’s biggest commitment to sustainable fashion. Union Minister of Textiles Smriti Zubin Irani helped launch Project SU.RE in efforts to move towards sustainable fashion at Lakme Fashion Week Winter Festive 2019. The designers are making strides to contribute to a clean environment. Part of the main purpose of this social cause was to develop a clear understanding of the impacts the garments have on the environment and help introduce a policy that will aid designers to prioritize utilizing certified raw materials to implement a positive impact on the environment.
What has been the most difficult part of your journey thus far?
There have been so many difficulties throughout the years. But, one of the most prominent ones is the fact that I stepped into modeling where there wasn’t a place for a transgender woman like me. I had to break a lot of barriers and overcome a lot of the common stereotypes.
India has made some progressive changes in support of the LGBTQ community. Talk to us about how you feel about these changes. What work still needs to be done?
We still have a long way to go. I think there should be an inclusive policy in every sector which provides equal opportunities to everyone, regardless of gender identity. Although these changes have had been a positive impact on my life—there have been so many opportunities to showcase my talent and advocate for what I believe in so strongly—and people often praise me for the work I have done, we still need to reach out to many more people and make them aware of the LGBTQ community.
Lama aims to help those who are inspired by her story and reach out to her for guidance. She has mentioned, in the past, that she actively counsels those who ask for support and resources related to the transgender community. She’s proud of her identity and stands strong as the woman she is — she encourages everyone to do the same, regardless of what gender you identify with.
While growing up, the only complaint I had when wearing desi clothes was that the embroidery on the fabric would always end up scratching my skin. As beautiful and intricate the details were, putting on an embellished blouse meant wearing an inner or a comfortable t-shirt underneath. Fortunately now, many South Asian brands are changing the game; focusing not only on the quality and intricacy of the embroidery, but also on comfort and wearability of the blouse itself. One such small business is Khushey.
Khushey is a one-stop shop for “buttery soft” performance blouses that don’t compromise on comfort for fashion and pair just as well with any of your mom’s saris as they do with your newest lehenga. In an interview withBrown Girl Magazine, founder Neha Seelam talks more about what inspired her to launch Khushey and what the brand has to offer.
Why did you want to start a brand that specializes in South Asian/Indo-Western blouses specifically?
I wanted to specialize in blouses because blouses are really the only part of Indo-Western clothing that I found a specific ‘problem’ with — one I thought I could solve. I absolutely love everything else about our clothing — with the variety of patterns/styles/cuts available, I feel that you can easily find the perfect piece out there.
But the part of South Asian clothing that my friends and I found to be a perpetual challenge was the blouse. They’re usually gorgeous, but by the end of the day you can’t wait to take them off. Also, it’s so hard to find a fit that looks seamless and beautiful — usually the chest, underarm or sleeve just wouldn’t fit the way you want it to with the heavy material and traditional tailoring.
I wanted to start off with basic colors but in shiny/formal-looking material that I could mix and match with all the different colors and styles of South Asian clothes that I already have in my wardrobe. The goal is that the blouses can be used multiple times with different outfits, are ideal for long nights of partying, and feel great against the skin.
What’s the story behind the brand’s name, Khushey?
The English word “cushy,” which means comfortable, actually originates from the Hindi word ‘khushi’ (happiness). I thought that the origin story was very sweet and resonated with the idea of comfort and happiness I had for my label. That’s how I chose the word Khushey — slightly adjusting the spelling so I could snag the right URL!
What is your number one priority when it comes to your blouses?
Formal wear that’s actually comfortable! I would love for women to be in the moment at their celebrations, and not feel constrained, itchy, or uncomfortable in their blouse.
South Asian women! Customers, from recent graduates all the way to stylish moms, have loved the product — especially moms since they typically value comfort and movability if they have to chase down kids at events!
How do you think Khushey allows South Asian women to embrace their love for South Asian fashion?
Over the last decade, I’ve seen women repurposing crop tops from Zara and H&M as sari blouses, and while I think that’s awesome and creative, I wanted to create an option for South Asian women where every detail was oriented around recreating the perfect sari/lehenga blouse. The shine is intended to be appropriate for formal wear, the cuts were inspired by some of my favorite blouses from when I was younger that wouldn’t have bra straps showing from underneath and were versatile for saris or lehengas, and the embroidery is intended to add a desi flair.
You’ve mentioned sustainability on your website. How are your blouses sustainable?
I plan to donate five percent of profits every year to a sustainable organization. Once I get enough interest from the public, I would like to fund new product lines that use eco-friendly materials that were prohibitively expensive for me to launch with. But I am eager to incorporate recycled spandex/nylon and metal into my pieces once I can afford to!
What sort of designs do you plan on incorporating into your label in the future?
I’ve thought of so many designs that I can build on. Starting with colors; I’d like to have all of the major colors available in my basic sleeveless blouse and then create a more modest version of that blouse with a variety of basic colors as well.
I’d also love to expand the patterns and embroidery options on the blouses. I hope to create seasonal collections that enable me to tap into the vast array of style/color inspirations that South Asian wear includes.
Khushey promises to offer comfort and style, all packaged into one performance blouse that you can reuse with a variety of desi outfits. Like Neha said, ditch your Zara crop top for a design that actually complements your desi look. Make sure to keep your eyes out for her latest designs!
Indiaspopup.com — USA’s premier online destination for luxury Indian designer clothing and accessories — is a global platform for South Asian fashion. It curates inclusive, embracive, and conscious trends and styles from the heart of India to its global shoppers. Founded by Archana Yenna, the company honored South Asian women from various walks of life who are leading the path for future generations. The luxury retailer hosted a ‘Power Table’ dinner at Armani/Ristorante in New York City with South Asian women leading the change in fashion, entrepreneurship, media, entertainment, and journalism.
At Indiaspopup.com, we empower and celebrate women through authentic South Asian fashion and community contributions. As we celebrate Women’s Day, we remain committed to sharing inspiring stories of South Asian women achievers and changemakers. Our recent ‘Power Table’ dinner in New York City celebrated remarkable women — trailblazers of South Asian heritage, inspiring the next generation of female leaders to dream big and chase their aspirations.
Yenna honored these women for breaking stereotypes and spreading positivity on body sizes, health, confidence, and skin tone. Through her work with Indiaspopup.com, Yenna hopes to help women feel beautiful, confident, and feminine, and make progress toward positive change. In a series of photos shot in New York City’s Baccarat Hotel, dedicated to the quintessence of luxury and excellence, Indiaspopup.com produced a high tea-themed photoshoot to celebrate its honorees. The women wore avant-garde clothing donning some of India’s most prominent designers while sipping tea, dining on canapés, and enjoying one another’s company. Exemplifying Indian royalty, the women championed one another and the power of sisterhood, and shared what womanhood meant to each one of them.
During the two-day festivities, Indiaspopup.com announced their partnership with Sakhi for South Asian Women, an NGO that represents the South Asian diaspora in a survivor-centered movement for gender justice. Sakhi applies a trauma-informed, culturally responsive lens with a long-term commitment to mobilizing a future free from violence. Yenna pledged to donate a portion of sales from the month of March to the organization.
Sakhi for South Asian Women is grateful to Indiaspopup.com for uplifting and investing in our work with survivors of gender-based violence. Nationally, 48% of South Asian Americans experience gender based violence throughout their lifetime, and at Sakhi, we have seen a 65% increase in cases over one year. This support will help us address the overwhelming need in our community and continue our commitment toward a future of healing and justice.
— Kavita Mehra, Executive Director at Sakhi for South Asian Women
To learn more about Indiaspoup.com visit their website.
Ever since we can recall, the Cannes Film Festival has been a merger of movies and glamour. On one side, there are hand-picked films — ready to premiere and make their mark in the world of entertainment — and on the other, audiences and paparazzi alike are served epic moments in fashion.
The festival, aimed to preview upcoming films from all over the world, invites a wide variety of guests that span the film fraternity, of course, but more recently, has opened its doors to many digital content creators, including renowned South Asian creatives.
With a more vast guest list comes a more recent debate: Cannes is a film festival and not a fashion showcase. Kickstarting the debate this year was none other than ace Bollywood director, Nandita Das, who in an Instagram post shared:
Sometimes people seem to forget that it is a festival of films and not of clothes!
In short, Das wants Cannes’ narrative to continue to focus on films.
But of course, there’s been a paradigm shift in the guest list over the last few years; this shift has allowed talents from various industries — including lifestyle content creators, entrepreneurs, etc., who showcase their work in fashion and beauty like fine masterstrokes — to walk the carpet and represent their craft, making space for others in their industry.
Influential names like Dolly Singh, Kaushal, Diipa Buller-Khosla, and Shivani Bafna — all of whom made a raging impact on the red carpet this year — weigh in on the significance of representing South Asian artists/influencers on the red carpet, and how they feel they’ve been part of this paradigm shift at Cannes Film Festival.
I believe that each step we take at events like Cannes sends a powerful message of diversity, cultural richness, and artistic excellence. Representation matters, and the presence of South Asian creators on the red carpet at Cannes helps broaden the narrative of beauty, talent, and creativity. It allows us to showcase our unique perspectives, narratives, and contributions, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive industry. By actively participating and making our presence felt, we help create more opportunities and spaces for South Asian creators, encouraging others to share their stories with the world.
Since 2015, the first time I walked the red carpet, till this year I have always been invited by L’Oreal Paris, one of the main sponsors of the event. It has always been such an honor to be invited to the festival through the makeup brand that I have been using for almost two decades, and, before my social media career began. Personally, I feel a sense of acknowledgment from such a prestigious brand, and its head office teams that sponsor Cannes Film Festival, and value the work I have done and continue to do as a South Asian content creator within the beauty space. Makeup, hair, and beauty will always play a big role within the film industry and it’s something I have always created my content around which is why I am proud to attend.
This is a proud moment not just for me but also [for] my peers and the entire content creator ecosystem given that we have reached such new global stages and presence. Of course, as you said, such film festivals, once considered as an exclusive hub for a congregation of the finest acting talents have, in the last few years, opened their arms to more people from the entertainment industry.
This is not just a sudden phenomenon with a burst of Indian creators at the festival this year but there is increased participation from non-film and non-South Asian celebrities across various spectrums from different sides of the world. Along with the many filmmakers, actors, producers, etc I also met some amazing influencers and entrepreneurs from other sides of the world. It’s amazing to represent India and celebrate and champion the advent of the digital ecosphere on such a prominent platform.
The confluence of actors and creators signified the amalgamation of traditional cinema and new-age digital influence, highlighting the transformative power of creative expression and how festivals like Cannes have become more forthcoming and progressive in their approach.
Cannes, like any other prominent festival, boasts of a red carpet that is synonymous with fashion and glitz, and I wanted to use this opportunity to represent all the amazing Indian fashion designers on the carpet besides, of course, attending the screenings. As someone who is just not an influencer but also an actress, I thoroughly enjoyed all the red-carpet screenings and meeting like-minded film talent from around the world at the event. At some point in the future, I would like to be attending Cannes for a film I’ve featured in.
Creators are often placed into boxes of where they belong and the rooms they can be a part of. Being on the red carpet dismantles the ideology that there’s a cap on how far we, as creators and as a South Asian community, can go and what we can achieve.
The Cannes Film Festival has always been viewed as the epitome of a glamorous event — everyone who attends looks like they’re living their best lives. I used the platform to share an authentic message of what the experience felt like for me. To represent all of us who doubt our potential, experience imposter syndrome, and are nervous to find their place, yet continue to push through to achieve their dreams!
As the first Indian American influencer to walk at Cannes, I hope I can inspire young women to confidently ask, ‘Why not me?’
There’s no doubt that the Cannes Film Festival is centered around films, and continues to be a unique space for the global film fraternity to bring their art and showcase their aptitude. But, creators like Bafna, Singh, Buller-Khosla, and Kaushal — a special shoutout to Raja Kumari for being instrumental in paving the way as well — have their own set of responsibilities to fulfill upon their invitation to the prestigious event. Their will to represent their South Asian identities, celebrate their industries, and continue to hold space for their peers makes their presence at Cannes more than just clothes.
All images in the featured photo are from the influencers’ Instagram feeds.