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WOMEN+POWER 2023: Nina Garcia

The fashion industry has weathered many body blows over the years – the HIV/AIDS crisis, the terror attacks of Sept. 11, wavering economic trends, demands to create a more inclusive culture and increased online shopping.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, piling on nearly two years of disruption to the global fashion industry.

Nina Garcia, Elle magazine’s editor-in-chief and a judge on TV’s popular reality series “Project Runway,” saw an opportunity to share stories of resilient women through the lens of fashion. In an industry some may find frivolous, Garcia and her staff committed to storytelling that reflected the concerns of women, mothers and working professionals during the pandemic.

“It is incredibly important now more than ever to give women a platform, to have inspiration, to talk about conversations that are very important, starting with some that might not be so comfortable to have,” Garcia said. “But I think there is a real responsibility to use our platforms for the better of our world, and especially of women’s lives, and talk about issues that might not be comfortable like domestic abuse, Black Lives Matter, abortion. This is what I feel most passionate about using the platform that we have at Elle to uncover these conversations. And at the same time, be of service to women that love fashion.” 

But when it came time to share her story, a deeply personal health challenge, Garcia wanted to espouse privacy. She was concerned about appearing weak, particularly working in a competitive industry, one where she had already shattered ceilings: When Garcia, 56, entered the fashion world, she was surrounded by mostly white and British editors. She was named editor-in-chief of Elle in 2017, she became the first Latina to lead a major magazine. 

Garcia underwent a preventive double mastectomy in 2019. Because of a family history, Garcia decided to get genetic testing to check for mutations to the BRCA genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), which increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. She wasn›t going to tell her employees or readers, but she did, and now describes it as one of the most important decisions she›s ever made.

«I thought that by sharing that story, I would seem like a weaker leader, but something moved me to think, no, I cannot keep this for myself,» Garcia said. «And I decided to share that story, and to be honest with you, that has been one of the most important decisions of my life. Because if I helped at least one woman to have the BRCA test and take control of her health and be aware of how important it is to know about breast cancer and be vigilant about what is your own health, then that›s enough.»

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