Now more than ever, people are craving authenticity. We want it from our friends, our employers, our favorite brands, and even the images we use.

Fashion is also reflecting these changing consumer values. Designer Carrie Hammer recently made a splash at New York Fashion Week with her fourth “Role Models Not Runway Models” show, where she featured 27 real women from all walks of life — including activists, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and an Olympic gold medalist — in lieu of traditional runway models.

She calls it the Runway Revolution, and her bid to change the face of beauty is resonating everywhere. In fact, there are 500 role models on the wait list for her next show.

Rakia Reynolds, Skai Blue Media
Rakia Reynolds, President of Skai Blue Media. Photo by Marc Hall

We chatted with Hammer about why authenticity and diversity are so important in fashion, and how her clothing line empowers successful women.

Shutterstock: What was the idea behind your show?

It was called “Role Models Not Runway Models,” and the women who were on the runway were extraordinary women instead of traditional runway models. We really want to promote the women who are doing extraordinary things in their lives, in their careers, and show young women that these are the types of people and ladies to be looking up to.

Avani Patel, TrendSeeder
Avani Patel, CEO & Founder of TrendSeeder. Photo by Marc Hall.

How did this idea come about originally?

It was our first fashion show in February 2014, when we decided to show at New York Fashion Week, and I was going through this checklist with my stylist. We were going through the DJ and lighting, and we got down to models. She said, “Are we doing a model casting?” I thought, that doesn’t ring true, and it was just a lightning bolt moment for me. I said, “Okay, we’re going to do role models, not runway models.”

Jess Weiner, Talk to Jess, LLC
Jess Weiner, CEO & Confidence Expert, Talk to Jess, LLC. Photo by Marc Hall.

Why do you think showcasing authentic women and diversity is so crucial?

I think for a very, very long time, the media and the fashion industry have shown a very one-dimensional view of what beauty is, leaving many women out. Most women think they have to change themselves; they think that they’re not part of that. And I disagree. I think every single woman is beautiful, so I want to be able to change that definition and let women know that they’re beautiful. Beauty is not purely skin deep, but it comes from your passion, your purpose, and your accomplishments — and I think that really radiates from the runway. Beauty is 3-dimensional.

Your show breaks a lot of barriers in many ways. 

Exactly. And that’s what we really set out to do. Everyone wears clothes — at least most of the time, right? — so we want to make sure that women get to see themselves reflected on the runway. They’re the consumers, and that’s the reason why we as designers exist. So we need to celebrate them and make sure that they are included.

Gwen Greene, JP Morgan Securities
Gwen Greene, Vice President at JP Morgan Securities. Photo by Marc Hall.

We heard that you design the clothes after you choose the women, not the other way around. Is that true?

Yes. We actually don’t design the clothes until we cast the women. And we design the clothes thinking, “Who’s the woman? What’s her lifestyle? What does she need?” It’s really about each woman; we want the style to fit to her.

Do you have an example of how the styles would be customized?

One of the dresses was for Melissa Miranda, who is an exec at PepsiCo (below). It has a very cool style. It has a houndstooth pattern. She’s a big exec so she’s in a lot of meetings with a lot of big, male executives, so the dress has a big cape. It has empowerment built in—she’s Super Woman.

Melissa Miranda, PepsiCo
Melissa Miranda, Director of Customer & Lifestyle Marketing at PepsiCo. Photo by Marc Hall.

How would you define beauty?

You can’t have one definition of one beauty. That’s impossible, especially because beauty is so trend-driven. In the ’90s, it was blonde and skinny, and now it’s Eastern European. The gap in the teeth is in, the gap in the teeth is out. Eyebrows are in, eyebrows are out. How can you say one thing is beautiful, when everything in our own world is so trend-driven? Everything is beautiful. I say all beauty is in all the time.

LaNeice Collins, the United Nations
LaNeice Collins, Communications & Advocacy Advisor at the United Nations. Photo by Marc Hall.

Do you have any advice for anybody looking to get into fashion?

Just go for it. I think a lot of people think, “Oh, I don’t fit in,” or “This isn’t for me because I don’t subscribe to the way the industry is.” Invent the way you want to see it, which is what I did. Invent what you want the fashion industry to be. I think this was a welcome change and a breath of fresh air for a lot of people.

See more from New York Fashion Week 2015: