The fashion industry was a world 28-year-old Jillian Mercado always wanted to be a part of, even if she didn’t fit the mold.
“I kind of took it on as a challenge to make sure that I represented all those girls that didn’t see themselves in the industry,” Mercado told CBS News correspondent Vinita Nair.
The eldest of three girls in a Dominican family, Mercado’s parents initially feared her muscular dystrophy would limit her. At 19 years old, she enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology to study merchandising management.
“I just wanted to know everything there was to know about the business side … everything that I could get my hands on,” Mercado said.
After years of working behind the lens, Mercado wondered what it would be like to be in front of it. She applied to an open casting call for Diesel jeans. She submitted her photo and wrote that her goal was to change the world of modeling.
“[Diesel] emailed me and they told me, ‘You’re one of how many people signed up to be in the campaign.’ And I quickly thought it was spam mail,” Mercado recalled.
That email led to a worldwide ad campaign. It also captured the attention of Ivan Bart, the president of IMG models.
“I was just struck by how beautiful her face was and how gorgeous. And you know, how striking, she was beauty with an edge,” Bart said.
Bart has scouted and signed some of the biggest names in fashion, including Miranda Kerr and Karlie Kloss. This summer, he signed Mercado to a deal.
“When we brought her into the office, there was some discomfort, and then the minute she opens her mouth, everybody in the room just becomes really comfortable,” Bart said. “She’s a star and that’s what a star is. It’s somebody who has a great personality and who can really work a room.”
In recent months, the fashion industry’s beauty standards have become more inclusive: a transgender woman, a model with a bionic leg and an 83-year-old woman have all been attached to campaigns.
In February, Jamie Brewer, an actor with Down syndrome who stars in “American Horror Story,” modeled for U.S. designer Carrie Hammer.
“The world is looking for choices and everybody is looking for brands to reflect exactly who they are,” Bart said.
In addition to modeling, Mercado has a part-time job as a creative consultant for a design company. She navigates the streets of New York like the other eight million people here — in a rush.
“Being a New Yorker helps a lot, prepares me. At a young age, I had to go to school by myself … and be a little adult,” she said.
Mercado said she wants to be viewed as “a model like every other model.”
“I kind of make fun of it and say that I’m a model in wheels, and that’s it,” she said.
Like many other models, Mercado is waiting to see if runway bookings come through for New York Fashion Week, which kicks off Thursday. Whether or not she’s cast, we’re told she will have a front row seat to many of the week’s events.