Meet the Next Generation of Activists Making a Difference, From Innovative Designers and Models to Young Women in Tech

Up and Comers - June 2017 - Panmela Castro
Courtesy of Panmela Castro

Among the young and carefree, it used to be that “do-gooders” were once seen as uncool, a naïve minority. But how times have changed! As today’s generation is proving, social activism is both empowering and a requisite of contemporary life. And while posting a message on Facebook or retweeting a hashtag is admirable, deep respect goes out to those who are dedicating their lives to making the world a more positive place. Like, for instance, the Brazilian graffiti artist Panmela Castro, who is raising awareness for domestic violence through her art, or the social media star Poppy Jamie, who hopes to help young people suffering from mental health issues through her new app Happy Not Perfect. They are just a couple of the unconventional do-gooders from all around the world that the supermodel and mega-philanthropist Natalia Vodianova, who is both the cover star and also a kind of contributing editor of our June/July issue, has compiled for this inspiring portfolio.

Panmela Castro
Courtesy of Panmela Castro

Before the first comprehensive Brazilian law to address domestic violence against women was enacted in 2006, victims had little legal recourse. Capitalizing on that forward momentum, the artist Panmela Castro began to create bold murals portraying women as strong, fierce creatures. Since then, Castro, 35, has earned the moniker of Brazil’s graffiti queen; but it’s through her organization, Rede Nami, which holds workshops to empower women through art, that Castro hopes to truly bring about change. Since 2010, more than 7,000 people have participated in the program, which has received support from Amnesty International. Meanwhile, Castro has been sharpening her feminist outlook through performance art. Among her most powerful pieces is 2015’s Ruptura, in which she applied lipstick, received a tattoo, and had her head shaved by audience members. Her next piece will be staged at the opening of Berlin’s Urban Nation museum in September. —Karin Nelson

Panmela Castro
Courtesy of Panmela Castro

Panmela Castro’s mural Frida Kahlo Carioca, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro.

Jérôme Jarre
Courtesy Of Jérôme Jarre

In 2013, when Vine personality Jérôme Jarre, 26, caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres with his hilarious and good-natured pranks on strangers, she invited him onto her show, an appearance that skyrocketed him to social media stardom. But as of late, the Frenchman is using his charm and influence for humanitarian causes. In March he enlisted Ben Stiller and Casey Neistat to help launch Love Army for ­Somalia, a grassroots, crowdfunded initiative in which commercial airliners fly food and supplies to the famine-stricken country. —Gillian Sagansky

Jérôme Jarre, in Somalia after the arrival of a Love Army shipment.

Isha Ambani
Matt Sayles

In India, exposure to extreme poverty is inescapable. Isha Ambani, the daughter of the Forbes-listed businessman Mukesh Ambani, was raised in Mumbai and felt from a very early age the need to give back. “It’s something that becomes very obvious in your daily life,” says the 25-year-old, who spent her childhood volunteering, whether it was aiding victims of the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat or visiting orphanages with her mother, Nita, who was a schoolteacher and went on to create Reliance Foundation, a philanthropic organization devoted to enhancing the quality of life in India. And as the director of Jio, a telecom start-up, Ambani, now a Stanford Graduate School of Business student, focused on bringing Internet service to Indian schools. “What’s better than imparting your knowledge to other kids and helping them to love studying?” —Vanessa Lawrence

Ariela Suster
Noa Griffel

Growing up in El Salvador, Ariela Suster experienced firsthand the terror that was taking over her country when her brother was kidnapped in 1995. He was eventually released, but she still fled to the United States a year later, and became a fashion editor at Lucky and InStyle. Suster returned to her homeland six years ago to launch Sequence, an accessories line that employs at-risk youth. “I wanted to address the violence at its core,” explains Suster, 37, who received assistance through Vital Voices, an organization that helps women build businesses to improve their communities. She started with three young men and now has 50—all of whom receive education and jobs in technology, screen printing, graphic design, and sewing. Says Suster, “I want to change the sequence of people’s lives.” —Karin Nelson

Ariela Suster
Noa Griffel

Ariela Suster’s bracelets from Sequence.

Hari Nef
Amy Troost/Conde Nast

For Hari Nef, modeling is a form of activism. In 2015, the 24-year-old Philadelphia native became the first American transgender woman to be signed to the powerhouse agency IMG Models, which also represents Gigi Hadid and Gisele Bündchen. Since then, the Columbia University graduate has walked the Gucci runway, appeared on the cover of British Elle, and acted in a recurring role in the hit Amazon series Transparent. Most recently, she starred in two L’Oréal Paris U.S. beauty campaigns, one of which debuted during the Golden Globes broadcast. At a time when trans rights are under attack, Nef’s visibility and candor in the fashion world and beyond carry far more weight than that of just another pretty face. —Vanessa Lawrence

Daniil and David Liberman
Alex Bystrov

Fifteen years ago, Russian tech entrepreneurs and brothers Daniil and David Liberman (left, from left), 34 and 33, respectively, set out to revive a derelict orphanage through crowdfunding. The problem was: “No one believed that we were using this money to actually repair the building,” Daniil explains of the impetus behind Frank, an app that allows users to track how nonprofits spend their money. Launching this summer, it is designed to be a tool for donors, but the siblings see endless possibilities, like ­tracing the ingredients in food, or understanding how governments are spending taxpayer dollars. “People who want to change the world should love the idea of being transparent,” David says. —Gillian Sagansky

Prabal Gurung
Courtesy of the designer

It wasn’t long after Prabal Gurung launched his fashion label in 2009 that he began to receive effusive praise from the press. And while most designers would simply lap it up, Gurung, 38, who was raised in Nepal by a politically active single mother, felt the need to channel the attention toward a greater good. Along with his sister and several friends, he started the Shikshya Foundation Nepal in 2011, which, through a percentage of his company’s revenues, funds education for Nepalese children from preschool through college. When an earthquake hit the region in 2015, his foundation raised more than $1 million to build shelters and provide relief to victims in remote villages. In the past six years, Shikshya has had a positive impact on more than 15,000 lives. “You can get so caught up in fashion,” Gurung says. “This has really given me a reason to do what I do.” —Karin Nelson

Prabal Gurung at a shelter and school in Nepal.

Ivory Ella
Courtesy of the brand

Matt Fiano, 39, and his business partners, Jacob Castaldi, ­Richard Henne, Esma Ilyas, John Allen, and Ryan Duranso, were overseeing the social media platform for a clothing company when they noticed the popularity of anything with an elephant on it. Taking the cue, the sextet founded Ivory Ella, an online athleisure company identified by its elephant logo, in 2015. “We knew it was gonna be big,” says Fiano of the label, which has more than 1 million followers on Instagram. Cute designs aside, it’s Ivory Ella’s charitable approach that has won over the crowds. The company donates a percentage of proceeds (as of now, almost $1 million) to Save the Elephants, an organization working to stop poaching and end the demand for ivory. Ivory Ella has also started giving to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the American Heart Association. “It’s the millennial way,” Fiano says. —Gillian Sagansky

One of the popular shirts.

Ivory Ella
Courtesy of the brand

Founding members of Ivory Ella with staff at the Save 
the Elephants camp, in Samburu, Kenya.

Miroslava Duma
Inho Ko

Miroslava Duma, the style-savvy entrepreneur behind the digital lifestyle magazine Buro 24/7, grew up in oil-rich Siberia, acutely aware of how big a pollutant the fossil fuel industry is. But it was only recently that she learned that fashion comes in a close second. As both a mother and a millennial, Duma, 32, felt compelled to act, and founded Fashion Tech Labs, a venture capital fund that supports innovative tech companies and research institutions working to create eco-friendly products. Among them: Diamond Foundry, which makes one-of-a-kind pure diamonds in a San Francisco laboratory; and Orange Fiber, which produces sustainable textiles from the hundreds of thousands of tons of citrus by-products discarded in Italy. ­Salvatore Ferragamo recently released a capsule collection made from an Orange Fiber twill-like fabric that feels like silk, and more collaborations with big fashion companies are in the works. Watch this space—Duma swears there are even more innovations on the way. —Karin Nelson

Miroslava Duma
Courtesy Of Orange Fiber/Salvatore Ferragamo

Salvatore Ferragamo recently released a capsule collection made from an Orange Fiber twill-like fabric that feels like silk.

Poppy Jamie
Jj Ren, Styled By Caroline Grosso

It’s no coincidence that the rise of social media has paralleled that of mental health issues: Today’s kids are ruled by a tyranny of likes and dislikes. “Everyone is struggling, and no one knows where to go,” says Poppy Jamie, the 26-year-old former host of Pillow Talk with Poppy, one of Snapchat’s first talk shows. Jamie ­suffers from stress and anxiety, and when she started receiving messages from viewers sharing their worries about not fitting in, she decided she had to do something. This month, after two years of working with scientists and specialists, Jamie is launching Happy Not Perfect, an app that offers exercises, games, and tips to help minimize “the emotional troughs.” Her intention is for people to practice them every day. “Our mental health should be as important as our physical health,” she says. —Karin Nelson

Nisha Dua
Courtesy Of Nisha Dua

A few years ago, Nisha Dua was running AOL’s millennial site Cambio when, realizing the access she had to an impressionable female readership, she brought in a handful of 17-year-old graduates of the nonprofit Girls Who Code ­program to not just reimagine the celebrity gossip site but actually rebuild it. Her success spawned a whole new platform, #BuiltByGirls, designed to connect young girls to the tech industry and equip them with the tools to become professional leaders through internships, pitch challenges, and ­networking opportunities. “Everyone is talking about women in tech, but the beginning of the pipeline is critical; it’s important to embed young women from the earliest stages,” says Dua, who worked as a lawyer and management consultant before joining AOL under media executive Susan Lyne in 2013. Dua, 34, considers her own generation of women too, with BBG Ventures, a fund she founded with Lyne to invest in companies that have at least one female founder. “When you look at the data, female founders and CEOs drive higher returns than male-only-led companies,” Dua says. “It’s not philanthropy to give women money—women are a great investment.” —Vanessa Lawrence

Ghetto Gastro
Daniel Krieger

Five years ago, the Bronx-bred entrepreneur Jon Gray, 31, cofounded Ghetto Gastro, a culinary-events collective, to celebrate food, foster local talent, and empower the neighborhood he hails from. Since then, Gray and his partners Pierre Serrao, Lester Walker, and Malcolm Livingston II have created gastronomical experiences for Microsoft in the South of France and collaborated on a Thanksgiving dinner, in Paris, for the designer Rick Owens—but they will never stray too far from home. “We’re thinking about how to use food and design as a way to engage our community,” says Gray, who supports organizations like the Edible Schoolyard ­Project, No Kid Hungry, and the Food Bank for New York City through fundraising, food delivery, and education. They are working on a reality show on Spotify, in which they raid musicians’ refrigerators; they also plan to open an event space in the Bronx that will double as a test kitchen. “Being able to do the work I love and with people I’m inspired by never gets old.” —Gillian Sagansky

From left: Malcolm Livingston II, Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao, and Lester Walker, in the Bronx.

Maria Borges
Courtesy Of Maria Borges

Model Maria Borges, 24, who made a splash in 2015 when she proudly sported her short Afro at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, was raised in Angola by her siblings after their mother passed away when Borges was just 11. “When I’m home, I’m organizing donations,” says Borges, who has made helping orphans her mission. “It’s what I love to do.” For the past three years she has put together Christmas celebrations at orphanages in her native country, and she plans to further the cause with the launch later this year of the Maria Borges Foundation. “When I started helping, it was just locally with friends and ­family,” Borges says. “But I want to go bigger now and help kids all over the world.” —Karin Nelson

Maria Borges delivers food to an orphanage in Angola.

Josh Ostrovsky
Steven Brahms

Through laugh-out-loud memes and ribald commentary, Josh Ostrovsky, otherwise known as the Fat Jew, has built a massive following on social media—and, subsequently, a successful business, having starred in brand partnerships for companies like Burger King and Bud Light, and launched a wine label, White Girl Rosé. But the 32-year-old New Yorker isn’t completely defined by bad behavior. With the help of his—and ex-wife Katie Sturino’s—three adorable rescue dogs, Underpants, Muppet, and Toast, he has helped raise awareness about the horrors of puppy mills and made #AdoptDontShop a trending topic. Last year, Toast even released her own book, ToastHampton: How to Summer in Style, which documents the toothless Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s glamorous life, with a portion of proceeds going to Friends of Finn, a partner of the Humane Society. —Karin Nelson

Josh Ostrovsky, in New York, with his rescue dog Toast.