Interview by Asia Lanzi

Reece King is a British model, activist, and content creator who has been in the fashion industry for eight years. He gained recognition after appearing on the cover of Gay Times magazine and challenging traditional gender norms and stereotypes. As a queer model, Reece is an advocate for inclusivity and diversity in fashion, and is renowned for his fashion sense. In the interview, he shares insights into his journey, the significance of his chosen family, managing public expectations, and promoting representation in the fashion industry.

Reece is wearing the Toadstool Boot by Zalando X Eckhaus Latta

As a model and activist, you’ve been advocating for change in the fashion industry. Can you tell us a bit about your journey?

So, I have been modeling for about eight years now. My journey started on social media and later evolved into being an activist and content creator. It all perfectly aligned with the timing of my modeling career, and as I was finding myself, I came out on the cover of Gay Times. I used my platform to create a space for the community I am a part of, and as I grew, my personal experience as a queer person of color became intertwined with social media and modeling. It became more about sharing my personal journey while also being a model.

Your modelling work often challenges traditional gender norms and stereotypes. How do you hope your work can contribute to the broader conversation around gender identity and expression?

I am one of many people who are boldly and bravely putting themselves out there, being themselves, and using it as a way to represent and celebrate their identity. Of course I’ve had worries and fears about being in the public eye, but I realized that seeing someone like me when I was younger would have helped me to embrace my own identity and sexuality. And that’s why I see my experience as something that I’m doing for myself, but also for others who may need to see someone like them.

Given your large following on social media, how do you navigate the pressures and expectations that come with being a public figure?

To be completely honest, I’m still learning how to manage the pressure of being a public figure. Sometimes I feel like it’s too much, but when those feelings arise, I take a step back and have a quiet day to remind myself of my goals and my path. It’s definitely a learning process, and I’ve found that it comes down to self-care and self-awareness in terms of managing my emotions. So it really all comes down to taking care of myself and being aware of how I’m feeling in the moment.

As someone who has been open about their struggles with mental health, how do you prioritise self-care? What advice do you have for others who may be facing similar challenges in their lives?

I try to reach out to people whenever I have intrusive thoughts or if I spiral into a negative place mentally. I’m fortunate enough to have access to therapy, which has helped me during certain moments. And my support system of my chosen family, biological family, friends, and colleagues have been everything in keeping me mentally healthy. 

I’m very open about my sensitivity and the challenges that come with fame, so everyone in my life is aware of where I am mentally. It truly takes a village to keep me going, and I’m grateful to have a great team of people and a strong support system to help me through difficult times.

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

The project was absolutely beautiful, and I had a great experience being a part of it. The meaning behind it is incredible and when they told me the concept and the aim of the project, I was overjoyed. It made me wonder why this wasn’t already a regular thing. It’s so important to promote inclusivity for people of all sizes and genders in the fashion industry because fashion belongs to everyone, regardless of their identity or interests. So for me, it was just a really exciting opportunity.

Reece is wearing the Loafer Zion by Zalando X Filling Pieces

How do you think the fashion industry can continue to promote inclusivity and diversity, particularly in regards to size-inclusivity and representation of underrepresented communities?

To make fashion more inclusive, we need to be directly blunt in telling brands to change what needs to be changed. It’s 2023, and if a company doesn’t offer sizes beyond a certain point, they need to hear that they should start doing so. Inclusivity benefits not only the brands but also those who deserve it. I believe it’s a win-win situation. So, brands should follow the example of companies like Zalando and offer a wider range of sizes. At least they should give it a try and see how it’s received because I believe they’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many people are interested in bigger sizes.

As a black man, coming out as bisexual was a significant moment that challenged societal norms and expectations. Can you share your experience with coming out and the impact it has had on your life and career?

Before coming out, I felt very uncomfortable with my sexuality due to toxic feelings and thoughts I had learned about sexual identity. It felt like I had to pretend to be straight and not fully express myself in terms of my mannerisms, personality, and interests. This affected my experience as a child, teenager, and in workspaces, where I felt like I had to pretend to be someone else. Fear was a significant factor that surrounded me, and it felt like the worst possible thing to admit that I was queer. With the explosion of social media, this fear heightened as it felt like the entire world was trying to dig dirt and expose me.

I wanted to take back the power, and that’s why I decided to do the Gay Times cover and come out publicly. At the time, I wasn’t fully aware of who I was and was still figuring it out. I initially picked the label bisexual because it felt like the first and easiest option for me. But, since then, I have identified as a queer person as it allows me to express myself without needing to give specific labels about who I am romantically involved with or my gender identity.

I believe that sexuality and gender are on a huge spectrum, and I find more happiness and peace in saying that I’m queer. I do not oppose any label put on me, but I correct people by saying that I am a queer person and live in that realm of queerness.

You have also spoken about the importance of chosen families. Can you share your thoughts on the joy and significance of queer love and the role that chosen families play, especially in the LGBTQ+ and ballroom community?

I became involved in ballroom and – little did I know – it introduced me to a group of people who became my chosen family. Meeting them during the pandemic was a relief because they were like a mirror to myself and we naturally clicked. Being part of this family gave me a sense of safety and comfort that I never had to question. My chosen family is huge, with many siblings, nieces, nephews, mothers, uncles, and aunties, all of whom I have become incredibly close to. And I love my biological family, but my chosen family gave me something I had been searching for since childhood, especially as a queer person. They became the thing I was looking for the most, and I never thought I would find it. It’s truly been a blessing.

Reece is wearing the Morso Boots by Zalando X GCDC

How has your understanding of masculinity and femininity evolved through your relationships and connections with others?

When I was younger, I used to have very rigid ideas about masculinity and femininity. I always felt a sense of fluidity and never quite identified as completely masculine or completely feminine. As I started modeling and creating content, I realized that I am happily in between both. While I identify as a man and use he/him pronouns, my energy, art, and fashion style are a mix of both. Personally, it’s not really a pick or choose situation for me, and I see masculinity and femininity as intertwined beings.

At 28 years old, I find inspiration in both masculine and feminine aspects, and I enjoy exploring both in my fashion choices. I no longer question myself about which is which or how much I can do. For me, it’s about enjoying fashion and women’s wear, which I find a lot more fun and enjoyable than men’s wear. And so I just take part in it. 

How do you personally stay authentic and true to yourself and what advice do you have for others who may be struggling with that?

When it comes to fashion, I don’t really pay attention to labels or gender expectations. I just trust my gut feeling and wear what I like. If I like something, I’m gonna rock it. I mix and match masculine and feminine pieces and this is something I learned as I progressed in my modeling and public figure career. I observed others doing the same thing, including straight people who didn’t face the same judgment as queer individuals. I stopped caring about others’ opinions and started taking risks to pursue what I felt passionate about. And not everyone appreciates my style, but I enjoy it and that’s what matters. My advice to anyone exploring their fashion sense is to start in the privacy of their own room, experiment and then gradually build the confidence to wear what makes them happy. If you want to go out and show the world, then do it. But do it for yourself more than anything else. Ultimately, it’s about representing yourself authentically and with confidence.

What’s something about yourself that people might be surprised to learn?

Despite being a public figure, I am naturally awkward with attention and tend to be very insular and introverted. People might be surprised by how quiet and inward I can be. Even though I may perform as an extrovert at times or appear super outgoing, those who truly know me understand the deeper layers of my personality and how actually introverted I am. 

What are some of your favourite music artists right now and how do they inspire you?

My taste in music is always changing, and I have a tendency to be quite annoying when it comes to controlling the music or being given the aux. I usually like to create playlists on the spot based on how I’m feeling or what’s current. Recently, I’ve been really enjoying Lana Del Rey’s new album. I tend to prefer female artists in general and don’t really listen to men, but but if I do, it’s usually someone like Frank Ocean. I love R&B artists like Summer Walker, Kehlani, SZA, and Jhene Aiko. I’m a water sign, so I tend to gravitate towards music that gets me in my feelings and has a soft, sweet, fluffy vibe.

Reece is wearing the Mimmi Boot by Zalando X Holzweiler

Your tattoos are an important part of your personal style. What is your most recent tattoo and does it hold a special meaning? 

My most recent tattoo is a mermaid skeleton on my arm. Let me show you! (proceeds to show me) It’s actually an illustration from a book by Dr. Spencer Black that I really enjoyed reading. When I saw the design, I immediately felt a connection to it because it perfectly captured how I was feeling at the time – like a mermaid and a skeleton. So that’s why I got it.

What exciting projects can we expect from you in the future? Any visions or aspirations that you’d like to share with us?

I’ve been working on a few projects that I can’t fully disclose yet since they have not been released. But what I can say is that I did a campaign for a brand that I’ve worked with before, and we just wrapped up shooting a second campaign for them. So I’m going to be mysterious, but I feel grateful to have been a part of this project because it’s super queer The first campaign was already very queer, but they took it up a notch with this one, which was fab. And, there’s a few upcoming fashion-related things that I’m excited for people to see.

What is it like to have the opportunity to combine your passions and career by working on important issues that resonate with you, like advocating for LGBTQ+ rights?

It’s really amazing, you know? Sometimes I find it bizarre that my work aligns with my day-to-day life so seamlessly. There are moments where I have to pinch myself because it feels like the things I’m doing or involved in don’t even feel like work. This is what I would do, if it wasn’t my job. So it brings me a sense of peace and helps me confront my past trauma while also helping others on their journey. So ultimately, it’s really a full circle experience.

Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences as a black 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.