Standing at only 5'5" with cherry red hair and lanky limbs, 20-year-old Jovel Ramos has become one of fashion's favorite outsider models. He's walked the runways of Hood by Air and Maison the Faux, been profiled by Teen Vogueand, most recently, appeared as a dinner guest during Katy Perry's SNL performance of "Bon Appetit."
But this type of visibility only makes a minor impact, even if you're as unapologetically queer as Ramos, who admits feeling guilty for landing features that lack genuine substance. "I was doing all these jobs, but none of it felt real," he says. "Queer visibility is great, but that's not saving anybody's life--that's not creating safe spaces."
Effective change comes from those who "practice what they preach," so Ramos decided to independently create a capsule collection that directly impacts the Ali Forney Center, New York's largest LGBTQ community center. "I wanted to give back to a community that means something to me," he says, which is why he's donating 20 percent of all profits from his capsule to the Center.
With a mission to eradicate queer homelessness and empower young people to live authentically, Ali Forney's mission targets the 40 percent of homeless adolescents today that identify as LGBTQ. They're rejected by their families and thrown onto the streets, forced to take on the world with inadequate resources and cruel mental strains.
"That hit really close to home," Ramos says, having been raised in Massachusetts public housing with his single mother. "I know what it's like to grow up against adversity in an urban community. I know what it's like to grow up queer. I know what it's like to think nobody wants to see you succeed."
Ramos' graphic three-piece capsule is a reflection of his own personal style and DIY ambition. Printed with a Jack O'Lantern's menacing smile, each top was inspired by Ramos' love of "dark, twisted, spooky" fashion. He thought about mall goth culture and Halloween--the unsung clearance rack at Hot Topic that outcast teens religiously shop.
(From Left): Lilith Levisis, Nat Carlson, Philip Errico
"My entire brand is based off love, acceptance and rebellion," he says, underlining the importance that his work also celebrate femininity. On the pink "Spooky Stripper Hoodie," Ramos bedazzled the outline of a femme stripper; another option is a flirty crop top, which Ramos styles with a plaid mini-skirt. "It's about mixing masculine things with feminine things," he says, citing his mother as chief inspiration.
"For a long time it was just me and my mom against the world," he says. "Public housing was a lot of moving and being shoveled around. It's hard to raise kids, let alone raise kids alone. I have the strongest mom ever, and I think that goes hand-in-hand with why I appreciate women's fashion and see the beauty in femininity."
(From Left): Nat Carlson, Lilith Levisis, Jovel Ramos, Philip Errico, Gia Garison
But Ramos' ability to flaunt his feminine side today took years of building confidence. Perhaps it would've been easier had there been more visible queer figures like himself to look up to. "It's scary to for most people to be 100 percent organically themselves, and it even took some time for me," he says, hoping the capsule can be a message of self-acceptance for LGBTQ youth--especially those at Ali Forney Center.
"I want to let these kids know they can achieve anything," Ramos says. "That's what I did. I grew up in public housing with a single mom and now I run my own brand, I model and I get flown to the other side of the U.S. for photoshoots. My life has been a complete 360. I want that message to be given to every kid who comes in contact with my clothes."