Jillian Mercado is recognized for her enthusiasm and conversational nature. In less than two years, she has amassed recognition as a model living with muscular dystrophy and collaborated with numerous industry icons. Besides her modeling career, Mercado is an advocate for greater representation of physically disabled people in the industry. She has also ventured into acting and is known for her role in the Showtime series "The L Word: Generation Q."
Mercado's affinity for fashion began in her childhood, likely influenced by her parents, who were immigrants from Santiago, Dominican Republic, and initially worked in an embroidery factory and shoe store. She carried this passion into her education, studying merchandising management at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).
Upon graduating from FIT, Mercado held various behind-the-scenes roles in the fashion industry. She worked with famed photographer Patrick McMullan, held a role at Tumblr, and later became the creative director of We the Urban magazine. Never having seriously considered a career in front of the camera, her modeling journey began when she submitted herself to an open call for Diesel with the encouragement of a friend. With a successful audition, Mercado started her modeling career and became a celebrated figure for her representation of the differently abled in fashion.
Mercado began to make waves in the industry and her career took off. She has starred in campaigns for prominent brands, including Olay, Bumble 100, Calvin Klein fragrance, Nordstrom, Target, and Tommy Hilfiger. In September 2018, Mercado made significant strides in her career by appearing on the cover of the first digital September issue of Teen Vogue. She has also been featured in various esteemed publications like Numero, The New York Times, Women's Health, InStyle, CR Fashion Book, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Glassbook, Jejune, and Herring and Herring magazine. In 2019, she was honored with the Flaunt It Award, recognizing celebrities who use their platforms to raise awareness about visible or invisible differences that have impacted their lives. In 2023, she was named to The Allure 2023 A-List, cementing her prominence in the industry.
Beyond her career highlights, Mercado has been actively involved in public speaking and participated in various summits as a disabilities advocate. She has engaged in numerous events, including Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine X Together Live Tour, Adweek's annual Women Trailblazers event, Little by Little in unison with the United Nations, and a panel discussing disability representation in media sponsored by Tommy Hilfiger and Microsoft. She has also expanded her creativity into filmmaking. Her short film, My Eyes Are Up Here, premiered at the Tribeca Festival. Mercado is writing an autobiography to share her story and inspire the next generation of women and individuals with disabilities.
From the moment Jillian Mercado burst onto the fashion scene less than two years ago, she’s been making headlines. As one of the most visible and successful models with a disability (spastic muscular dystrophy), Jillian has become an important voice and advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities. But interestingly, Jillian didn’t start her career in front of the camera. She lived and breathed fashion from a young age, as her parents (both immigrants from the Dominican Republic) worked in an embroidery factory and shoe store. She studied fabrics, learned to sew, and then got hit by the fashion bug.
With a degree in merchandising management from New York’s esteemed Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), she worked with top photographers and at Tumblr, was the creative director of We The Urban magazine, and immersed herself in the business of fashion. On a whim, she submitted herself to an open call for a Diesel worldwide ad campaign, which immediately went viral. The buzz was instant, and she soon appeared in campaigns for Olay, Beyoncé, Bumble 100,
Calvin Klein fragrance, Nordstrom, Target, and Tommy Hilfiger. She was featured on Teen Vogue ’s first ever September digital cover and has been profiled in editorial features including Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Glassbook, Jejeune and Herring and Herring magazines. She’s also featured in Zoe Saldana’s upcoming documentary series Breaking Glass.
Off-camera, Jillian is in demand as a speaker and panelist on numerous issues around accessibility and visibility for the disability community --not only in the fashion world, but in all walks of life. She’s addressed conferences sponsored by the United Nations, Google, Microsoft, and Tommy Hilfiger and she continues to do all she can to show that “disability doesn’t have to be ugly, it should be embraced. I wish I had that role model growing up, but to be that role model is great.”
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