Zaya Wade is finally old enough to get her driver’s license, but she’s been a driving force in the fashion industry for some time now. The 16-year-old daughter of former NBA player Dwayne Wade and stepdaughter of actress Gabrielle Union has already walked runways, sat front row at fashion week, and posed on red carpets. “I’m having so much fun with fashion,” she tells ELLE.com.
Since coming out as transgender in 2020, Wade says she has discovered the special—and uniquely affirming—type of joy that comes with expressing yourself through what you wear. “It’s a way to show the world that all the negativity isn’t going to bring me down,” she explains. “To me, it’s about showing the world and myself that I’m just me. I’m still who I am and who I continue to want to be.”
At Paris Fashion Week, Wade took in Miuccia Prada’s highly-anticipated spring 2024 collection wearing the brand’s leather harness biker boots, leather handbag, and a golden faux fur coat. After the show—and before heading out to the Miu Miu dinner party exclusively for editors, celebs, models, and stylists—we caught up with Wade to talk about her foray into fashion.
ELLE: Tell me about getting ready for the Miu Miu show.
Zaya Wade: Well, in all honesty, I was a little nervous. I woke up very early this morning at 5 A.M., and couldn’t go back to bed. But it was the good kind of nervous. Then, I ate some breakfast. Glam came over round 11 A.M. It was really fun. It was low-key, but, you know, we wanted to slay, of course.
ELLE: Of course! What inspired your glam look?
ZW: For the most part, I like to keep it very like clean, just neutral. But today, for the lip, we really wanted to do a lip line and go more bold with it. I wanted to bring some extra spice to the outfit, but there wasn’t a particular or specific inspiration—just the energy that we decided to bring.
ELLE: Let’s talk about the outfit. How did you decide on what to wear?
ZW: So it was very layered, all stuff from the new Miu Miu collection. Well, not the new collection, but you know, from the most recent collection. I had this faux fur coat, it was so chic and very warm. I wore these mid-calf boots. Oh my God, they are to die for. I’m like, can I keep them?
ELLE: I’m manifesting that for you.
ZW: Thanks! Then we filmed a lot of content [for social media], and by 12:30 P.M. we were on our way to the show. It’s been a day, a good day though.
ELLE: You’ve said in the past that fashion is a really important part of expressing yourself and expressing your identity.
ZW: Yes, growing up, my parents were both really, really fashionable. They always went out in some look, and I think that started it for me. It was so inspiring, because I feel like I am able to channel a lot of their energy and personality through clothes. Fashion is one of the most successful ways for me to express myself. I really wanted to get into the fashion world, because I’m not much of a painter. I was like, art is not for me—but what I can do to express myself is wear a great outfit. I decided to get into this world and I’ve been growing and learning and experimenting and trying to express myself every day through my clothing.
ELLE: And what have you learned so far?
ZW: I feel like the biggest thing I’ve learned about the fashion industry so far is that there’s a lot more to it. Every single day I learn something new, but it’s so fun. I think a lot of people have preconceived notions about fashion and modeling, but at least to me it’s really fun. I mean, I get to go to Paris. Like, I’m here in Paris. I feel like everyone’s like, “Oh, modeling, you’re just walking down the runway.” But it’s so much more than that. It’s an entire world. I still have so much to learn.
ELLE: What have you learned about yourself since getting into the fashion industry?
ZW: My confidence has grown. I’ve stepped into myself, especially starting out. I obviously came out as trans, and it was a very confusing time. I didn’t know everything about myself, but having that expression through clothing allowed me to come into my own. It gave me a level of confidence that I have needed and will probably need forever. It gave me the confidence to thrive.
ELLE: Do you think fashion can be used as a tool for communication?
ZW: I always like to say that for me fashion is a form of expression. It’s a way to show the world that all the negativity isn’t going to bring me down. To me, it’s about showing the world and myself that I’m just me. I’m still who I am and who I continue to want to be.
ELLE: And who is that?
ZW: I’m a lot of things. A really big part of me is my love for education and my strive to better the world in different ways. Obviously a big part of my life as a trans person is to be impactful in my community. I continue to take the question of “who am I?” and foster it and grow and, you know, evolve. Every day I ask myself, “Who am I?” And, like, how can I continue to move forward and better answer that question every single day?
ELLE: Speaking of evolvement and growth…in what ways do you think the fashion industry can continue to grow?
ZW: Fashion has grown so much, and we’ve obviously come so far. I would say most notably when it comes to gender fluidity and perceptions of sexuality and all these forms of expression, fashion is heading in the right direction. For too long, there was a very limited stance on what was worn and what was presented. Now, we’re breaking through that barrier and it’s [moving in the right direction].
ELLE: Which designers do you think are putting in the work to move the needle?
ZW: There’s a world of brands out there doing great things, but Miu Miu really speaks to the image that I’d like to present to the world. Miu Miu is the moment.
ELLE: Miu Miu is definitely the moment. What’s the best piece of fashion advice you’ve gotten?
ZW: It hasn’t been a singular lesson. It’s more about how I carry myself with the clothes that I wear and less about the literal clothes that I wear. Because I think a lot of outfits can be pulled off with just attitude. My stepmom [Gabrielle Union] has given me that conversation about what confidence can do for you and how the clothes that you wear can help you get there. I think about that and embody that every time I put on an outfit.
ELLE: What outfit makes you feel the most like yourself?
ZW: It’s kind of a mix. It really depends on the mood that I’m in, or what I’m feeling. Sometimes I’m here in sweatpants and a baggy sweatshirt and I’m in my bed doing my homework and I’m like, this is me, like, this is who I want to show up as. Other days I am here in Paris wearing Miu Miu, and I’m like, this is who I want to show up as and this is how I’m feeling. I don’t think there’s ever really one answer to what makes me feel most myself.
This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Rose is a Senior Editor at ELLE overseeing features and projects about women’s issues. She is an accomplished and compassionate storyteller and editor who excels in obtaining exclusive interviews and unearthing compelling features.