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Zach Miko might be a pioneer, but that wasn’t necessarily by design.

Before he ever signed with a major modeling agency, became the first plus-size male model to work with international brands, or graced the cover of the L.L.Bean Men’s Catalog, Miko wasn’t planning on a career in fashion.

“I never thought I could model, in the same way I couldn’t be the Queen of England,” Miko says. “It’s not like I was disappointed, it just wasn’t an option.”

In fact, his relationship to clothing (and the fashion industry in general) was often defined by a lack of options.

“I could never find anything for myself, especially as a young, husky kid,” Miko says. “I was just 10 or 11 when I cracked six feet tall, and because of that especially I couldn’t find anything that fit.”

Miko depended on the hand-me-downs of his father and grandfather, three generations who struggled to find sufficient, stylish apparel for their broad frames – with a few exceptions.

“L.L.Bean has been one of the few companies that had tall sizes, even when I was a kid,” Miko says. “Because of that, my dad was die-hard L.L.Bean. It was the only thing he really felt good and put together in, like the clothes were actually made for him.”

L.L.Bean is known for its extensive assortment of real clothes for real people, offering casual wear, active wear, technical wear and outerwear, as well as footwear and gear, in a broad size range that enables everyone to get outdoors.

And in 2022, when L.L.Bean released its most inclusive sizing offering ever, Miko was one of the models chosen to represent the expanded sizing assortment.

Reflecting on the experience, Miko writes on his personal Instagram account, “Life feels very full circle right now as I’m on the cover of this month’s [L.L.Bean] men’s catalog and all over the website. I wish so much 13-year-old Zach could see this. I hope any current 13-year-old ‘Zachs’ see themselves today.”

Miko understands what it’s like growing up without representation, with few heroes who modeled successful, healthy bodies at every size. Before the era of body positivity – which Miko calls “one giant online support group” – young men often received harmful messages concerning body image and its connection to self.

“When I was a kid there were bigger guys who were famous, obviously,” he says. “You had your John Goodmans and your Chris Farleys and your John Candys. It seemed like they were only allowed to exist and be celebrated if they were funny and if they were making fun of their size.”

It wasn’t just the lack of role models in pop culture. Miko’s firsthand experiences with diet culture growing up taught him that he would need to change to find acceptance. “We were only ever seen as having value if we were losing weight, and that’s when we could be celebrated,” he says.

As a result, the model jokes he wore the same hoodie almost every day for two years as a teen, in an effort to cover up with the biggest clothes he could find.

Fortunately, things have changed since that time, with fashion insiders like Miko seeing how much the past decade has enhanced opportunities for people of all bodies and backgrounds to be considered. “I was the only plus-size male model working at all when I first started. Now most of the major fashion agencies have some sort of a big and tall board.”

For kids who see Miko in L.L.Bean’s latest gear and apparel, he hopes to “be the guy he wishes he had at an early age.” His message to them?

“You can love life. You can have fun. You are enough as you are. You’re valuable to society. You’re valuable to your family and your friends just the way you are. You don’t have to lose weight. You don’t have to be funny, and you don’t have to make fun of yourself. You can just exist.”