Elle van der Burg, a name synonymous with high fashion, trans activism and baby-pink locks, cracked open the fashion industry at the age of 15. Fast-forward four years, and Van der Burg has featured in both international and local campaigns.
The model graces the beauty pages of Cosmopolitan's February #TransIsBeautiful issue. The issue profiles icons and style mavens like Van der Burg, Desire Marea, Fela Gucci, K-$, Sydney Davy, Glow Mammii and Angel-Ho.
They've joined Cosmo in its latest issue to advocate that South Africans and the world say #YesToLove.
Would you look at that?! I'm this month's beauty model! 😩❤️— Elle van der Burg (@baby_caramelle) January 22, 2018
This means so much to me because not only is this a gateway to representation but also a clear reminder that #TransIsBeautiful 🏳️🌈💕
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In 2017, Van der Burg was featured in the iconic "Out Of This World" documentary by i-D, which explores the queer culture in Johannesburg.
The activist recently chose to pull back from work to reflect on the progress that has been made in the fashion industry so far.
Although grateful to be given a platform to break boundaries in fashion, Van der Burg notes that she's a small facet of the trans community, and urges the fashion industry to assess how she is used in future work carefully.
"Representation has to be a step forward – to take forward everyone in the country"– Elle van der Burg
Watch as the model talks openly about the progress (and challenges) of her journey in the South African fashion industry.
Reflecting on the highs and lows of her career, Van der Burg calls the Cosmopolitan gig a firm favorite. She also remembers a national campaign for Nedbank fondly – it's important for the trans community to also be associated with "everyday things such as banking", she says.
She wants to downplay the negative fallout from her public dispute with fashion creative Siya Beyile over the nonpayment of 20 models – which saw Beyile called out on social media to rectify the problem.
The models remain unpaid – in an earlier interview with HuffPost, Beyile cited financial difficulties as the reason. Van der Burg says the model collective has not considered a legal approach as yet – watch as she describes their experience:
Looking forward, Van der Burg looks to using her activist voice in much more than just magazines and documentaries. She will now focus on road shows that break down the relationship (and difference) between sexuality and gender.
She feels this understanding is particularly important to South African youth, many of whom have neither the vocabulary nor the opportunity to have vital conversations about sexuality and gender.
"A lot of people see us as an invisible and forgotten group of people"
– Elle van der Burg.
Watch as she shares her intentions for 2018: