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Model Anjali Lama on breaking gender barriers and owning runways

Fashion, in India and internationally, is undergoing through a shift. Race and gender identity, which came to define rigid boundaries in the industry, are now becoming talking points. Over the past five years, there has been a wave of inclusivity, and one of the biggest signs has been the association of transgender models with leading luxury brands. From Lea T who became the face of Givenchy under Riccardo Tisci’s creative leadership to Brazilian supermodel and actress Valentina Sampaio, who was recently announced as the face of Victoria’s Secret Pink campaign, transgender models are leaving their mark on mainstream fashion. India too is seeing a slow, steady change, and leading this tide is model Anjali Lama.

Anjali Lama in Manish Malhotra. Image: Courtesy Instagram
Anjali Lama walking for Manish Malhotra. Image: Courtesy Instagram

Having walked for the likes of Tarun Tahiliani, Anita Dongre, Abu Jani & Sandeep Khosla and Monisha Jaising, Lama has garnered rave reviews and appreciation from the industry, and been featured in the country’s leading fashion publications. This year the 34-year-old also bagged her first Asia-Pacific campaign for Calvin Klein, and most recently became the brand ambassador of Puma’s new campaign ‘Propah Lady’, which is inspired by women who break stereotypes. Looking at her trajectory of work, it’s hard to fathom her journey from Nuwakot, a district in Kathmadu, where she was raised, to walking down runways in Mumbai.

Image: Courtesy Instagram
Image: Courtesy Instagram

Born Nabin Waiba, Lama always wanted to move beyond the tag of being called a ‘feminine man’, a remark she had to put up with all her school life, and embrace womanhood in its entirety. She’s closely worked with Blue Diamond Society, an LGBT community group in Nepal, and in 2009 underwent partial sex reassignment surgery. The same year, she was featured on the cover of a Nepali magazine ‘Voice of Women’ – the industry took notice and Lama’s modelling career triggered. She auditioned for Lakme Fashion Week thrice over two seasons and was finally chosen in 2017. She hasn’t looked back since.

Lifestyle Asia India caught up with Lama at the launch of Puma’s Propah Lady campaign, to talk work, style, and milestones. 

Anjali Lama in Abu Jani & Sandeep Khosla. Image: Courtesy Instagram
Lama walking for Abu Jani & Sandeep Khosla. Image: Courtesy Instagram
How do you define a ‘Propah Lady’?

A ‘Propah Lady’ is one who doesn’t shy away from expressing herself even it means breaking societal rules. I was born a boy but I wanted to be a girl. You do not have to compromise with your identity just to fit in the social norms. It won’t let you be happy. So, just be yourself.

Do you think fashion is becoming more inclusive?

Over the past 10 years I have seen the industry evolve. However the story was a bit different around 2009 when I started. Fashion is changing and becoming more inclusive now. Me being on the runway is an example of that. In India, conversations about gender identity and sexuality are taking place, which is a great sign. After Section 377, a lot of opportunities are coming for transgender people. It is surely a good start but we have a long way to go.

Anjali in Avaran. Image: Courtesy Instagram
Lama in Avaran. Image: Courtesy Instagram
Puma classics you can’t do without?

I’ll have to say their sneakers are the best. With a slight nip in the air, I can count on Puma hoodies and I also love their sports bras.

What is the best fashion advice you have ever received?
Comfort is key. Even if you have to dress up for an occasion, make sure you are comfortable. And don’t try too hard, let your effortlessness speak.
3 wardrobe classics you can’t do without?
My sharp tailored blazers, cocktail dresses, and skirts in leather and denim.
Image: Courtesy Puma
Image: Courtesy Puma
Models you admire in the industry?
Adriana Lima. In India I look up to Lakshmi Rana, Sonalika Sahay and Deepti Gujral.
Your most memorable runway memory so far?
Walking for Sabyasachi’s Kashgaar Bazaar at the 20th anniversary of the label was such an honour. Since I started my career, it was dream to be a part of his show.
Designers you want to walk for?
Versace and Balmain
Model Anjali Lama on breaking gender barriers and owning runways

Anupam Dabral

Sr. Associate Editor

It was while studying fashion journalism at London College of Fashion that Anupam developed a keen interest in the anthropological aspect of the discipline; for him, fashion only makes sense when seen in the context of its environment. He is always on the hunt for great stories, and in his spare time binge-watches films/shows starring Whoopi Goldberg, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.

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