Last month during London Fashion Week, model Valeria Garcia turned heads when she walked down the runway with a wearable breast pump under her outfit. She stepped onto the runway at Marta Jakubowksi’s Spring 2019 show in what looked like a regular suit, but when she returned to the catwalk for the finale, she opened her jacket to reveal a bra and two pumps underneath.
Garcia recalls show-goers standing and applauding in their seats, but the reactions spread far beyond London. As the latest celebration of motherhood on the runway this year—following two pregnant models at Rihanna’s Fenty x Savage show and a breastfeeding mom at the Sports Illustrated swimsuit show—Garcia’s walk made headlines across the pond.
“I felt confident and happy to do it. I was happy to see it was everywhere,” Garcia tells BAZAAR.com. “It was kind of funny at the same time because I saw some reviews say like, ‘The first woman to walk with a breast pump in history!’ I didn’t have that thought during the show, but it helps for us to be more confident and happy. I think breastfeeding is amazing. It’s something great for all women to do.”
The reaction from fellow mothers was swift. “After the show, I saw a lot of people contact me through Instagram, and they were saying, ‘Oh, I’m so happy. It’s great what you did, showing that it’s something really natural,'” says the Argentinean-born, London-based model.
Garcia, 35, is the mother of two boys—Salvador, 5, and Antón, 1—who were both present at the show and witnessed her viral walk in person. The Harper’s BAZAAR Argentina cover model has also modeled for magazines like Marie Claire Mexico, and brands from L’Oréal to Armani, but this marked her first time on a runway in nearly six years. She stopped walking in shows before having her first child.
As fashion week castings go, Garcia was asked last-minute to appear in Jakubowski’s lineup. Her agency told her the designer was looking for a real-life mom to model a practical, wearable breast pump that women’s tech brand Elvie wanted to launch at the show. Garcia, who breastfed and pumped for both of her children, happily obliged. It was the only show she walked this fashion month.
“I’m really pro-breastfeeding. I fed both of my boys. I never did formula or anything,” she says. “I was really amazed when I saw the product because it’s really quiet and you can really do whatever you want to do while you’re using it. I thought, ‘People will get the message. You can even do runway with the pump on.’”
The Elvie pump, which took three years to develop, was designed to be silent and non-constricting so that women could wear it under a nursing bra while doing everyday activities (including working and traveling—two historically difficult areas for women to find a place to pump).
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“Our products are all about how can women be the women they want to be and the mother they want to be,” Elvie CEO, Tania Boler, says. The brand often puts women’s health issues through a lifestyle lens, adds Boler, who has a Ph.D in women’s health. Debuting the pump at London Fashion Week aligned with that plan.
The Elvie team and Marta Jakubowksi had wanted to work together on a statement about women’s issues, “and then we met Valeria and the magic happened at that point, really,” says Boler.
Garcia wasn’t nervous to pull off the stunt. “I never thought of what would people think about it,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘Okay. It’s very natural.'”
In fact, Boler thought Garcia was a perfect model for Elvie’s pump lunch. “She lived through these issues,” the CEO says, citing the pressure on models to return to work quickly and get in shape after giving birth. “She’s got a tiny little baby and is already back at work. She knows how difficult it can be and how pumping should be something that is empowering for women, and that gives women choice.”
Valeria used a breast pump with both of her boys. When she returned to work after giving birth to her first child, her husband would sometimes bring their son to her to breastfeed during breaks, but on busier days, the pump came in handy. She used it less with her second child because she waited longer to return to work.
Nowadays, Garcia is a “full-time mom,” she says, which includes taking her son to school, playing with the kids, and cooking—but she still models sometimes “if something comes up.”
Garcia’s breast pump walk was timely, as it arrives during an ongoing conversation about women’s right to breastfeed in public. On top of that, working mothers who pump in the office often face challenges, like lack of proper lactation facilities, insufficient break time, and humiliation in male-dominated environments.
“When the baby’s hungry and they’re crying, what are you supposed to do? Go by yourself and cover completely in a cape or something?” Garcia quips. “It’s something natural and it’s beautiful. For me, with both of [my sons], wherever I was, if I’m in the bus and he’s hungry, I just [feed] him.”
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Almost here! 2 Months Countdown!❤ Thanks to my amazing husband and little boy for this beautiful photos! LoveU
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Garcia, who’s been modeling for 15 years, says representation of motherhood was especially progressive this season. Slick Woods was one of two pregnant women to walk in Rihanna’s Fenty x Savage lingerie show. She even went into labor after exiting the runway. Earlier this summer, Mara Martin breastfed her five-month-old daughter while modeling a swimsuit on the catwalk.
“I think this year, it’s been more ‘Mom,’” Garcia says. She’s also noticed more body diversity, whether it’s through models posing pregnant or new moms flaunting their real, imperfect bellies. “For me, it’s the same with both of [my kids], my belly’s not perfect and it’s just the way it is, and I’m happy,” adds Garcia. “It’s something that I’m proud of, to be the mom. Of course your body’s going to change.”
Garcia’s walk also takes place as the runways continue to improve inclusivity in size, race, age, and sexuality. NYFW, for example, had its most diverse season yet. “I think it’s great to show you don’t need to be this way or that way. You can be whoever you are and be proud of what you are,” the model says. “I think it’s a way of showing the power of a woman.”
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