Interview by Asia Lanzi

Raya Martigny is a trailblazing model and artist who has fearlessly carved her path in the fashion industry. From a young age, Raya discovered her identity and community through social media and fashion magazines, leading her to venture beyond her island home L’île de la Réunion. She embarked on a journey of self-discovery and independence, ultimately moving to Paris at the age of 17. Raya’s passion for modeling and art has shaped her identity, and she draws inspiration from diverse sources, including iconic Hollywood actresses and trans women who left a lasting impact. In this interview, we delve into Raya’s journey, her thoughts on womanhood and femininity, her advice for transgender women, and her experiences in the fashion world. Read more about her journey, as we explore her unique perspectives and insights.

Raya is wearing the Morso Boots by Zalando X GCDS

Would you like to tell me a bit more about your identity, your background, and your journey?

Since a very young age, my journey has been clear. I discovered who I was through social media and fashion magazines. Around the age of 11, I realized that I needed to assert my independence and find a sense of community beyond my island. Although it wasn’t easy, I knew I had to venture away to connect with people like me. At 15, after graduating from a hairdressing school, I had the opportunity to move to Paris at 17. Looking back, I realize the courage it took to make that decision. As a child, it wasn’t about age; it was simply following my survival instincts. It’s incredible how instincts can lead us to dark places, but in my case, they brought me to a place of life and light that I’m truly grateful for. From a young age, I started reevaluating what I wanted to bring into my life and how I could make it a reality. 

How did you discover your passion for modeling and art, and how has it shaped your identity?

Fashion has always been my faith, and from a very young age, I began to cultivate my identity and aesthetic. My inspirations were drawn from a myriad of sources – everything served as a huge mood board, a collection of inspiration taken from life itself. At that time, I didn’t fully grasp the concept of a mood board, but it was a reflection of the moods and inspirations that surrounded me.

From Marlene Dietrich to Lea T, I found inspiration in a diverse range of individuals – the latter is a trans woman who left an indelible mark on me. Equally influential were the iconic Hollywood actresses who had powerful control over men and commanded the world. They were the girls everyone admired and respected, the bosses of their own worlds. These women have always been a great source of inspiration to me.

Today, I find myself becoming a perfect mix of the examples I’ve always admired. It’s as if I am concocting a potion, bringing together a little bit of everything that resonates with me. This mixture becomes a gift to myself, shaping my life into the reality I’ve always dreamed of. I am bringing my life to life, transforming it into who I truly am.

Raya is wearing the Maya Heeled Mules by Zalando X Rejina Pyo

What does womanhood and femininity mean to you? 

To me, womanhood means self-consciousness and balance. It embodies the strength and vitality I have always yearned for. My femininity serves as a gateway to my freedom of expression, unconstrained by limits. This might not make sense to some people, but who cares? I wholeheartedly embrace the complexity that comes with being a woman, as it has shaped my journey in remarkable ways. Sometimes there are moments of stillness, but I find great fulfillment in the challenges life presents me on the path to my goals. 

Based on your own experiences and insights, what valuable advice do you have for transgender women on their journey?

The journey towards self-discovery depends on the person, encompassing worship, experimentation, and the realization that life can be devoid of color and beauty at times. My advice is to prioritize self-love. Learn to navigate life step by step and consider traveling to a country where acceptance awaits, where you can find a community that resonates with you. We continually need to adapt to an unfair world, but we will persist and keep doors open for ourselves and future generations. You are definitely never alone, so let us stand together as one.

For me, self-discovery has been shaped by my life experiences. The realization of my true self came through my journey of exploration, meeting new individuals and embracing the strength within me. It’s a blend of love, compassion, and diverse energies that led me to this conclusion. It allowed me to forge my own path, just listening to my inner voice, and navigating life step by step. Along the way, I’ve learned to embrace the people around me, aiming to surround myself with the best influences. There are moments when people or life itself may deceive, but it’s important to keep moving forward. Ultimately, it’s all part of the learning process, you know?

How do you approach having your transgender identity at the forefront of media and public discussions in your life?

The media serves as my expressive tool, conveying my intentions and asserting my trans presence. My transness is a beautiful weapon I carry daily, an armor that embodies my identity and I’m really comfortable with my reality. Being trans is a significant part of my life, but it doesn’t define my entire existence. There’s so much more complexity and beauty to my life beyond my gender identity. But of course, it remains an integral aspect of my strength and resilience.

As a part of Zalando’s inclusive “Walk a Mile” campaign, how has it been for you to be involved in this project?

To me, it was an incredibly intelligent and beautiful move. The importance of inclusivity is often overlooked or superficially addressed by many brands, but the team went beyond that. They created something genuinely impactful and useful that is absolutely fabulous. The project feels like a breath of fresh air, and the team has been amazing – lovely and supportive. They fearlessly invest in bringing about change without hesitation. Unlike other brands that tend to move slowly, they take quick and decisive action. It sets an excellent example for other brands to follow, a way to prompt them to update their campaigns. By communicating the demand and scarcity, it emphasizes the significance of the change we need to seek. 

Can you discuss the significance of fashion in your life and how it has shaped your identity? What are your thoughts on the impact of the LGBTQ+ community on the fashion industry?

The queer community and the culture it embodies have always been a profound inspiration for the world. The queer community is the culture of this world and always has been. The queer community serves as an ultimate source of inspiration that the fashion industry will forever aspire to embrace. Without us, there is no fashion. 

For me, fashion is a way of self-expression. It means feeling like a little clown, playing around and exploring different aesthetics while pushing boundaries. It allows a sense of freedom and there is no limit to your aesthetic. From a young age, I’ve loved thrift shopping, finding treasures in one euro or secondhand shops. I would transform these pieces, cutting and creating beautifully fitting garments with just a few euros. It has always been a wonderful way to express myself and experiment with style. Life is about experiences and trying new things, and that makes you truly appreciate what you bring to life.

Raya is wearing the Gali Zion Platform Boots by Zalando X Filling Pieces

How was your experience walking for the SS23 Mugler show, where you shared the runway with other doll icons like Dominique T.A.R Jackson?

I killed it. Mugler was absolutely everything, giving me an abundance of love. My admiration for Casey Cadwallader knows no bounds. We share a deep understanding of what we envision for the show, what we expect from life, and what we aspire to bring to the industry. Our connection is so profound that we understand each other with a simple blink. Since our first meeting, it has always been about celebrating our authentic selves. Casey provided me with a space to not only perform but also reveal to the world who the fuck I am. It was an incredibly powerful and amazing experience to have that platform. It was a special moment in the show, a showcase of my ability to give my all. I believe I am a showgirl at heart, and I truly love what we bring to life together. Now, this word exists, and others can embrace and play with it. I love that.

As for Dominic Jackson, I have immense admiration for her. We both share the experience of being trans women. She is undeniably an icon, and I’m a huge fan of her incredible work and talent. I feel that sometimes, due to the influence of social media, we are constantly caught up in comparisons and putting certain people on a pedestal. It’s a social media disease that diminishes the importance of individuals. It doesn’t matter who you are: If you’re a star, you’re a star. If you’re an icon, you’re an icon. For Mugler, we all gathered to celebrate our iconicness, which is fantastic. Yet, there will always be new stars and new girls after us. We are here to uplift and empower the community worldwide. Of course, Dominic is iconic, but I’ve always been surrounded by iconic girls whom I love and respect just the same. I always give them the same stage. It might not be clear what I’m trying to say, but my message is that anyone can be an icon. With social media, certain people are in the spotlight. But in the end, when you live your life, you become the icon of your own life. That’s what truly matters. People may appreciate you when you turn into a superstar, but they may not fully grasp your journey before that and the hard work you put in to get there. I’m sure she has put in a lot of effort, making her success even more powerful and worthy of celebration. The fact that she has become famous speaks volumes. The journey itself is the success story of your life.

Who or what served as your inspiration, influence, and support in your journey towards becoming the person you are today?

It’s a bit egocentric, but whatever: I believe that, in a way, my inspiration stems from the strengths I’ve developed through experiencing life. Ultimately, it’s my mind and emotions that shape my true identity. For me, life is an experiment that holds the key to discovering who I truly want to be. My inspiration comes from everything I feel, and while people can influence those feelings, it’s ultimately my own emotions that shape my perspective. Different individuals may feel differently when they encounter something. I draw a lot of inspiration from my soul, from what I feel and what I desire to experience.

And there are so many ways to experiment and no limits to exploration. Whether it’s experimenting in love, friendship, nature, or travel, life itself is an experience without limits. That’s what makes it beautiful, powerful, and an act of self-care. When you explore for yourself, whether through creativity or any other means, it doesn’t matter if the outcome is good or bad. What matters is that it brings you happiness and treats you well. So, embrace it.

How do you approach your beauty regimen and self-care routine? Could you share some of your favourite beauty secrets or tips for self-care?

Self-care, for me, involves embracing the sun and filling my life with love, but always in a safe manner. So, I make sure to wear SPF++++ and just ensure I feel safe overall. Essentially, my self-care routine is just a lot of sun and a lot of love. That’s it. That’s my self-care routine.

You have also spoken about the importance of community and chosen families. Can you share your thoughts on the significance and joy of queer love and the role that sisterhood plays?

When it comes to community, I believe that my sisters and I are on a mission for peace. We embrace the belief in our ancestors and recognize that we are more than meets the eye. It’s all about fostering universal love within our community. Love knows no boundaries and it surrounds us all, empowering us to deconstruct toxic societal norms. That’s the essence of it.

Speaking of sisterhood, it holds immense significance in my life. The care and support we share are unmatched. Through our relationships, we protect, inspire and understand each other on a deeper level. It’s a bond outside of societal expectations that we will never encounter beyond this community. There are no limits or rules when it comes to building these relationships. We can love our sisters and community in our unique ways. Of course, it’s important to be mindful and take care of the people we love. Within our community, we prioritize respect, understanding, and open communication. It’s a powerful force in the world that extends beyond ourselves.

Raya is wearing the Chouchou Square Loafers by Zalando X Elleme

Do you have any favourite songs or music artists you are currently obsessed with?

I have a deep admiration for Toni Braxton, who is my number one icon. Her album “The Heat” and the song from that album have always resonated with me as the perfect sexy summer anthem. I’m currently in Berlin, experiencing the first warm day of summer. I just draw inspiration from women with strong postures, voices, charisma, and beautiful bone structures, much like Toni Braxton. People in the past even mistook her for being trans because of her powerful and commanding voice. I find the comfort and confidence she has in her voice and body truly inspiring. She has always been a role model for me in terms of both beauty and talent. There are also other amazing artists like Sevdaliza who I admire. Actually, we now share the same manager. When I was younger, I was drawn to her music and her unique beauty, which I can relate to. In a conversation we had, she expressed her pride in what transgender women, like myself, are achieving. She mentioned that my representation as a woman with strong bone structures and posture is fulfilling a childhood dream of her by embracing and normalizing different body types. It’s incredible to celebrate women in such diverse ways, and I am grateful for the connection we share.

What is the most impactful piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice that helped me work on my traumas came from a close friend in New York City. They encouraged me to reflect on my current situation and reconsider those moments when I felt abandoned or betrayed. This approach allowed me to confront difficult experiences and offer myself love, time, and compassion to overcome this trauma. Basically, it’s about taking a seat, revisiting the trauma, and asking yourself, “Why am I still allowing this to affect me?” For example, when I experience misgendering, it feels like a slap in the face, despite it happening every fucking day. I’ve learned to return to that initial moment of hurt, reflect on how far I’ve come, and recognize the strength I have today. Instead of letting it affect me, I question why I give it power over me when I’ve grown beyond that hurt inner child. The world may not completely change – I am conscious of that. So, I believe in navigating through life by striving to adapt to the world. If adapting means experiencing less suffering in terms of psychological aspects, I choose to protect myself and not allow others to infiltrate my mind. It’s about walking away from that negativity, being proud of myself, and preventing others from influencing my thoughts.

Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences as a queer identity. It was truly inspiring to hear about your journey and perspective!

The 'Walk A Mile' collection, a collaboration between Zalando and seven designer brands, is now available exclusively on Zalando across all 25 markets starting from May 8th, 2023. The collection includes 14 stylish pieces of footwear in sizes 35-46, featuring boots, heels, clogs, and loafers designed for inclusivity.