Joan Smalls Wants You to Use Your Platform to Encourage People to Vote

Growing up in Puerto Rico, my grandfather was adamant about voting and being civically involved. He believed that since we were afforded this human right, it was our duty to act upon it—a necessity to invest in our future. He was very opinionated, but my parents were never really into politics, so when it came to voting, we didn’t talk about it much. However, the message my parents did teach me was to be kind and respectful to others, and to make a difference where I could. Being in Puerto Rico, I felt like there wasn’t much of a difference that my vote would make since it’s a commonwealth and not an actual state within the United States. But as I grew older and I saw the world change around me, I began to see the importance of acting on that right.

In 2008, I was living in New York City and able to vote for the first Black presidential candidate. It was something I had to take part in. I had to be part of history, part of change. I remember feeling so exhilarated when Barack Obama won the election. I was filled with excitement and joy, because I got to witness and be part of an incredibly historic moment that we all wished so hard for but didn’t know with certainty would happen. Though I may have grown up with a less-than-enthusiastic view of voting, I have since been part of something that not only changed me personally, but also changed this country and the world. I got to see the power a vote has and now know that every vote, no matter where you are, is important and necessary.

We influence so many people around the world every day. So why not use that influence for good?

Those of us with a platform have a civic duty to help inform people’s decisions. One of those duties is to tout the right to vote. People within the fashion industry tend to be more outspoken; they will do what it takes for their voices to be heard. As a group and community, we influence so many people around the world every day. So why not use that influence for good?

For those of us in the industry who are American citizens, November is going to be a battlefield for one of the most prestigious government offices in the world. Mobilizing the American people to register to vote and go to the polls in November is key to seeing the change we all crave. Fashion is about creativity, expression, and the right to be who you truly are—and many of the values that we encourage and thrive on in danger of being silenced. But to those who are trying to silence certain cultures, races, and demographics, I say, “Good luck!” We are stronger than you think. And when we come together as one, we are mighty.

In June, I wrote an open letter to the fashion industry for inadequately acknowledging Black culture and the Black Lives Matter movement, which inspired many to jump into action. And now I come to you again, saying that it is up to us as well to make a difference. Let us use our voices and platforms to encourage those around us to register to vote. This is why I have joined forces with the Voto Latino Foundation during Hispanic Heritage Month to help mobilize not only the Latinx community, but also anyone and everyone who feels that their vote and voice don’t matter. This group of amazing people has already registered more than a quarter of a million voters for the 2020 election cycle, and I want to see that number explode! We as a community have so many young people who look to us for guidance and inspiration, many of which span all different cultural groups and backgrounds. Let us be the role models they want us to be. Let us come together to do whatever we can as an industry to encourage those around us to be the force for change that we need.


2020 has been a hard year. There is no other way to say it. Between a global pandemic and racial unrest, the American people have suffered, and the only way we will see the change we want will be through voting on November 3. It is time to restore our presidential office with someone who doesn’t view those different from him as threats but as lifelines to different ways of thinking.

So, to my friends in the fashion industry, I implore you all to find ways to get involved and to share reliable resources with your followers and those who look up to you. Help and encourage those around you to be active and use their voices for good, for change. Let’s not look back and be disappointed that we didn’t do enough to help. Let our future selves be proud of the steps we took this year to mobilize all people to exercise their civic right and duty to vote.

Change is coming. This is just the beginning.

To register to vote, please visit VotoLatino.org .

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