The category is: Influence. Who’s got the juice? Like it or not, we live in an influencer-centric culture. But true influence is more than followers or likes; it’s shaping culture, opening minds and raising the bar. Our ten TGU50 Influence honorees do just that, making major breakthroughs in beauty, fashion, and artistic expression—or in Rihanna’s case, all three. These honorees challenge us to look beyond the binary, consider different perspectives, uplift our own and expand our notion of beauty, and we’re all the better for it. Most importantly, these honorees have both catalyzed major cultural shifts and continue to push the needle—and conversation—forward on issues of power, beauty, representation and inclusion.
Rihanna. That is all.
At the tender age of 32, Robyn Rihanna Fenty is already a living legend. The internationally-recognized fashion mogul, model, entertainer, activist, philanthropist and self-proclaimed “bad girl” got her start in the entertainment industry in 2003 while vacationing in New York. In the years since, the Bajan beauty’s rise to stardom has since been unmatched, but Rihanna has remained both authentic and unapologetic through her ascension. Building upon her stratospheric music career to launch beauty and fashion enterprises, Rihanna made inclusivity an industry-wide imperative with the launches of both her groundbreaking Fenty Beauty and body-positive Savage x Fenty label. In 2019, she made fashion history, collaborating with LVMH to become the first black woman to helm a French fashion house with the launch of Fenty Maison. And while her “Navy” may still be awaiting a new album, the star has also made philanthropy fashionable through her nonprofit, the Clara Lionel Foundation. In short, whether dropping albums, new makeup or fashion statements, Rihanna does it for the culture.
Indya Moore is more than just a gorgeous face. The outspoken advocate and actor’s activism work has taken center stage.
Indya Moore has faced a lion’s share of adversity, but growing up in foster care in the Bronx and surviving sex trafficking did not stop the enchanting beauty from daring to dream. Instead, the TIME100 innovator and breakout star of FX network’s history-making television show Pose devised their own narrative. As an Afro-Latinx trans person, Moore’s battle with acceptance encouraged them to become a champion in the trans community, their authenticity bolstering a movement within fashion and film to be more inclusive. The Bronx-bred visionary continues to persevere despite whatever challenges come their way: In a groundbreaking move, last June they became the first transgender person to cover American Elle; Moore was also the face of legendary couture house Louis Vuitton’s 2019 pre-fall lookbook. More recently, they joined the cast for the 2020 Pirelli calendar, putting a black and trans perspective on the heroine of Shakespeare’s classic play Romeo and Juliet.
Mama Cax is no longer with us, but her beauty, passion, strength, and resilience live on in her legacy.
Cacsmy Brutus, affectionately known throughout the fashion industry as Mama Cax, was a trailblazer. An avid traveler with a zest for life, the Haitian-American beauty was a popular blogger prior to what became a successful modeling career. Surviving a teenage bout with cancer which required the amputation of her right leg, Cax never allowed her disability to inhibit her dreams. Instead, she became an advocate and ambassador, compelling the fashion industry to take notice and become more adaptable in its approach. As fierce on the runway as in print, her signature bald head and striking features landed Cax gigs with ASOS, Olay and Tommy Hilfiger, among others, as well as Teen Vogue’s digital cover in September 2018. That same year, the devoted disability activist ripped the runway during New York Fashion Week Chromat and Savage x Fenty. Sadly, Cax unexpectedly died at the pinnacle of her career due to complications from a pulmonary embolism in December 2019, but her impact is indelible.
Kahlana Barfield Brown’s approach to her stylish personal brand comes from within.
When Kahlana Barfield Brown exited her decade-long position as beauty and fashion editor-at-large at InStyle Magazine, she understood that she was taking complete control of her personal brand and career. The well-respected style and beauty guru’s tenure in the fashion industry and collaborative opportunities with Huda Beauty and other fashion and beauty heavy-hitters granted her the access to define her next role in the everchanging world of fashion. The Howard University alum opted to invest in her own fashion legacy—and quickly proved fly enough to pull off that feat. In addition to being courted by top brands as a consultant, the influencer’s quarter of a million followers on Instagram now flock to see what the trendsetting, unapologetically black fashion maven is rocking day-to-day.
In a world where black voices and culture are often curated by others, Kimberly Drew is determined to reclaim our work—one collection at a time.
Widely known through her “Museum Mammy” moniker, Kimberly Drew’s love of blackness shapes her curation and critique of contemporary art—with her own fashionable spin. An internship at the Studio Museum in Harlem helped the Orange, N.J. native solidify her devotion to introducing black works to black people; a radical and intentional celebration and centering of blackness she built upon with her well-received blog Black Contemporary Art and as former social media manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. A self-described “fashion person,” Drew is also something of a style icon; in 2018, she both launched a collaboration with Reebok and moderated the launch of Serena Williams and Virgil Abloh’s Nike collection. She is currently authoring a much-anticipated book titled Black Futures with New York Times writer Jenna Wortham.
In 2011, The Root deemed Gabi Gregg one of 30 black bloggers we needed to know. Well, the world knows about her now.
Gabi Gregg, also known in the blogosphere as Gabi Fresh, is larger than life. The self-proclaimed “OG Fat Girl” got her start in the world of fashion and blogging in 2008, but Gregg became a viral sensation in 2012 when she unapologetically posted a photo of herself rocking a body-baring bikini. That act of fashion rebellion—and her outspoken stance regarding what was “appropriate” for full-figured women to wear—impelled the body-positive role model to launch a successful swimsuit collection for Swimsuits4All. As both a personality and advocate, Gregg continues to break boundaries and disrupt the fashion status quo, dispelling the myth that larger-sized women can’t be trendy—or sexy.
Fashion disruptor Brandice Daniel is the driving force behind Harlem’s Fashion Row. Her work has given designers of color a place in a whitewashed industry.
Brandice Daniel had no experience in the industry when she launched Harlem’s Fashion Row in 2007, but the Memphis, Tenn.-bred fashionista yearned to provide a multicultural platform for designers of color to highlight and cultivate their talents. Her insight and mission to promote black fashion propelled the entrepreneur and advocate into the spotlight along with the designers she championed. In 2019, Harlem’s Fashion Row initiated a program to mentor designers of color with IMG—the agency and enterprise that now produces New York Fashion Week. This, after Daniel changed the game in partnership with Nike for the instantly sold-out HFR x LeBron 16, a sneaker co-designed by black female HFR designers Kimberly Golson, Fe Noel and Undra Celeste. Thanks to Daniel’s advocacy, new doors continue to open for designers of color.
Tiyana Robinson’s dedication to representing women of color in the beauty industry created a firestorm. Now, the self-made artist is making the art of glam and business accessible to everyone.
The beauty industry is filled with talented makeup artists—unfortunately, they aren’t always taught business acumen. Tiyana Robinson wants to make sure they possess both. Since 2013, Robinson, a former director of marketing, has used her makeup artistry skills to transform some of Washington D.C.’s most prominent faces. But it’s her business savvy that sets her apart from the masses, and in 2019, Robinson launched Makeup Mogul University—the first online university dedicated to teaching makeup industry professionals and amateurs alike everything they need to know to run a successful and lucrative business.
Businesswoman-turned-beauty blogger Felicia Walker is the go-to for all things beauty.
Felicia Walker, creator and editor-in-chief of popular beauty blog This That Beauty has been serving the tea on beauty and fashion for almost 15 years. The Jersey-born beauty is one of the black pioneers of beauty blogging, with influence and knowledge that have become well-respected in the beauty and fashion industries. In fact, the Rutger University graduate’s social media presence and writing chops earned her a five-year tenure as luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman’s Social Media Beauty Editor; Walker has also appeared as an expert on Today and the Wendy Williams Show and was a 2018 judge for Glamour magazine’s highly-anticipated annual beauty awards. Her in-depth understanding of all things beauty has made Walker the “It” girl for advice on the best hair, skin and cosmetic products money can buy.
Marie Denee’s passion for bringing fashion-forward, crowd-pleasing options to the plus-sized community has transformed her popular blog into a multimedia destination.
When Marie Denee started blogging under the “The Curvy Fashionista” moniker in 2008, her mission was simply to inspire plus-size divas to be comfortable, confident and sexy in their own skin. The Atlanta-based maven’s retail experience, business knowledge and vibrant personality quickly built a community of followers who trusted Denee’s style expertise and helped usher in what we now recognize as the body positive movement. Denee’s chic style, coupled with her vision to include curvy women in high fashion made her the go-to girl for illustrious publications like Seventeen, USA Today, and Black Enterprise. In 2015, Denee elevated The Curvy Fashionista to the next level, developing a full-blown digital platform that creates video content, branded events and contributor content.
The Glow Up 50 is presented by Self Made: Inspired by the Life Madam C.J. Walker. Watch Self Made on March 20, only on Netflix.