Photography Cruz Valdez
Styling Marcus Cuffie
Interview by Ludwig Hurtado
It took weeks to schedule an interview with Zaya Wade. Understandably, the HommeGirls covergirl has had a busy year. In March, she made her runway debut walking for Miu Miu in Paris— and she’s currently one of the faces of the brand’s Fall/Winter campaign. Given that our interview was slated amid the frenzy of New York Fashion Week, I figured Zaya’s narrow window of availability was mostly due to fittings, meetings, and whatnot. (Zaya and her team insisted that the interview had to happen on a weekend.) But it turns out that had less to do with fashion month and more to do with the fact that Wade was taking the ACT exam for the first time.
BOTTEGA VENETA nappa leather dress and skirt.
“My weekdays have been completely dedicated to studying,” she tells me when we chat on an early Saturday morning after New York Fashion Week has drawn to a close. The young model and trans rights activist is the first to admit that she’s always been “a huge nerd.”
CHANEL knit top and cashmere cardigan; ALEXANDER MCQUEEN leather shorts.
Now in eleventh grade, Zaya says her geekiness has shifted from a childhood fascination with Greek Mythology to a full-blown obsession with science. So much so, that she says she wants to be a scientist when she grows up. And rest assured that runway shows and editorial campaigns won’t be getting in the way of those aspirations. “I mean, they’re definitely different worlds,” she observes, “but I don’t think everything’s so black and white about it. I mean, I’m doing it! I’m a STEM girl, and I’m also a model. It’s not one or the other.”
PRADA cape, skirt, and shoes; Stylist's own tights.
MARC JACOBS cashmere pullover, shorts, belt, tights and runway shoes; JACQUES MARIE MAGE sunglasses; Zaya's own ring.
Listening to Zaya describe her teenage life I can’t help but be reminded of all the Hannah Montana I watched in my tween years. “It’s so cool that I can go to school and be a student and then over the weekend, I can go to Paris for fashion week.” Admittedly, sometimes it feels as though she is living a double life: “Maybe my childhood self is just living vicariously through my teenage self,” she says, but you know, it really feels like I’m just living the life that I want to live.”
While her celebrity parents might not exactly know what it’s like to be a fashion model slash scientist, they have been able to help her navigate the very unique experience of being in the public eye. Her father, the now retired NBA legend Dwayne Wade, and her movie-star stepmother Gabrielle Union, have been vocal supporters of Zaya who came out as trans in 2020. At the time, Dwyane Wade announced in an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that he and Gabrielle Union, are “proud parents of a child in the LGBTQ+ community,” telling the world that their then-12- year-old was now going by the name ‘Zaya’ and using she/her pronouns.
GUCCI wool prince of Wales mouline mini dress; JACQUES MARIE MAGE sunglasses; Zaya's own rings.
Her decision to transition, and to lean into life as a public figure, did not come without a lot of deep discussions with her family. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to [partner with brands and organizations],” she says about her choice to lay low at first. “It’s just that I was focusing on myself and trying to just see what it meant to be trans.” When she was fourteen going on fifteen, however, she had a pivotal talk with her father. “The topic of being a model came up, and we just had a very in-depth conversation about how being a part of a family that’s in the media versus being on your own in the public is a very, very different experience.”
“I spent a few months deciding if I really wanted to be out there, and at first it was scary,” but she felt strongly that she could share her experiences with other young LGBTQ people, knowing that representation can have a lasting impact. “Seeing trans celebrities out there acting and modeling and just doing all the things that they love to do is inspiring in itself. It showed me that we’re here and we can do it. I hope that I’m that for a lot of people.”
MIU MIU dress and socks; MARC JACOBS runway shoes.
Of the future of fashion Zaya is hopeful, “I look up to the whole fashion community and I see what we are capable of. A lot of people tend to think it’s just a bunch of people walking in clothes,” she says. “But I think — especially with trans models — it’s more than just that. It’s about representation of culture and history.” Ultimately, fashion helped her both understand and express herself. “That’s what fashion is to me: coming together and celebrating all the things that you can celebrate.”
While Zaya feels strongly about being an advocate for the trans community, she hopes that’s not the only aspect of her identity that people see. “A lot of people seem to project that being trans is my only identity,” she tells me. “And that’s it. Like I came out as trans and there’s nothing else about me.” It’s reductive, she chides. “I would like for people to understand that I’m multifaceted just like every other human.”
Take her passion for science, for instance. “That’s almost just as important to me!” she insists.“I get almost giddy thinking about how I can just do so much,” noting that for a long time there wasn’t much in the way of female representation in science, let alone trans representation. I really love science and hopefully one day I can help us all understand a little bit more about ourselves.”
And just like that, the science nerd is off to Paris and her next fitting.
"Becoming Zaya" by Cruz Valdez in HommeGirls Volume 10.
Production Lolly Would