From the pages of Sports Illustrated to disrupting the fashion industry with her size inclusive swimwear line Bissy Swim, Allie Ayers is forging her own path by creating a new paradigm of what it means to be a model in 2019. The self proclaimed weird kid from rural Oklahoma chatted about how the pursuit of her dreams landed her in The City of Angels, and how she stays grounded.

What were your aspirations growing up in a small town in Oklahoma?

As a kid I was constantly paying my brother in Spam—we were weird kids—to act in the plays I would put on in our front yard for the neighborhood. I also spent a lot of time drawing each outfit for my imaginary fashion shows. There was never any question what kind of person I would become. I knew I wanted to live a life bigger than I was going to get in a town of 1300 people, so one of my most prominent dreams was to move to New York City. I ended up in LA, but New York was an important stop along the way.

Was modeling a career you always wanted to pursue and how did you get into the industry?

I remember submitting my photos to a Teen Vogue modeling competition when I was around 13. Part of the prompt was to showcase several outfits we styled ourselves. In true early 2000s fashion, I know there were jeans worn under dresses, lots of layered tops, and a ton of awful prints. So, yes, I certainly wanted to model. I didn’t have my chance until 5 years later when my mother agent scouted me at a beauty pageant. I told her I would have to call her after basketball season and I did!

Tell us about your experience working with Sports Illustrated.

The Sports Illustrated team has been such a blessing in my life. Anyone who has modeled a while will have a slew of stories highlighting how negative the industry can be, and I certainly have my fair share. This group of people—mostly women—were so lovely through every step of the process. I think one of the most important things they do is to give the models so much control over their image. When you are on set shooting for a company you almost always have no say in how you appear (to an extent hard lines should be abided by). With Sports Illustrated I was able to have a say in the swimsuits I wore, and the team were open to any feedback I gave throughout the day. I say that’s so important because it reinforces the message they are sending about female empowerment that we, as women, have full control over our bodies and our image.

You’ve spoken about the challenges of being a mid-size model. What have you discovered about yourself through that experience?

The initial realization that I was in some vague category between standard size models and plus size models was frustrating because nobody knew what to do with me. I was sent to plus and straight size castings and didn’t fit either. The industry is starting to open up now, so it is getting easier. Now I’m so thankful for that time in my life because it heightened my awareness of the lack of representation in modeling for not only midi models but also different races, genders, and ages.

Talk to us about the genesis of Bissy Swim.

My baby! Bissy is the product of the frustration I had with the lack of diversity I was seeing in fashion advertising, the realization that the plus size community has such limited options and lack of quality within those options, and the love I’ve had for creating since I was a kid. I had been making suits by hand for a time when I found out I was going to be featured in Sports Illustrated. With that momentum, I launched Bissy.

You described Bissy Swim as a size-inclusive swimwear line. Talk to us about how your line differs from other brands.

I’m hoping to change the standard within the fashion industry through Bissy’s example. Yes, we cater to the plus community, but we take that farther. So many plus brands give women options that stack ruffles on patterns on layers of fabric, clearly with the intention to cover up. Quality-made pieces are also hard to find. I wanted to make sure women could come to my site and find sleek, classic options that are designed to flatter the curves they have, not to cover them up. By the way, my use of “flatter” doesn’t mean “make them look thinner”, it means “show off how how hot those curves are”! With my marketing, I also aim to disarm whatever it might be in someone that makes them feel like they need to hide their body. Another area we are super passionate about is the sustainability, and the ethics of our work. Our suits are made in the USA. I chose to do that, so I would be able to see for myself that we were hiring fair labor facilities. We’re also making changes regularly to reduce our waste. We are focused on creating pieces that will last our customers a long time by making quality swimsuits that will stay nice longer, but also by choosing designs that won’t be out next season or the next.

Where would you like to see the fashion industry headed in the next few years?

I’m so over fast fashion. These brands rip off quality designers to rapidly produce essentially disposable clothing. Almost always in these situations fair labor practices aren’t implemented either. It’s so negative for our environment, for employees, and for the fashion industry as a whole. I hope to see sustainable fashion made cool. I want to see people being celebrated for wearing the same pieces over and over, instead of it feeling like a no-no to post a photo of yourself in the same dress on Instagram twice.

With so much on your plate, how do you stay grounded?

I’m careful about who I surround myself with. I think it’s so important to keep a tight group of friends who truly align with the person you want to be. I’ve also learned to not only keep “yes men” around me. You’re not going to make the best decision every single time—we’re human. Keep people around who aren’t afraid to check you.

What projects are you working on that you can share with us?

I’m so excited to have taken on the wardrobe direction for the upcoming feature film Colonials. It will be my first time wearing this hat and I can’t wait to see it come to life.

Follow her on Instagram