When Zaya Ribeiro needs grounding at home in New York City, she finds a favorite serene, light-filled spot in her bedroom and traces the distinctive markings of her tribe across her cheeks and chin in linear black strokes. “This makes me feel powerful,” says the 22-year-old Brazilian activist, who is the first fully Indigenous model born and raised in the Amazon.
The glorious beauty, rich culture, and people of the region have shaped how she views the world, but Zaya's relationship with her birthplace—which is increasingly vital to fighting climate change and limiting the rise of global temperatures—goes deeper than most. “The connection we have to the land is sacred,” she says. “We believe life comes from nature and that man was born from the forests millions of years ago.”
Those beliefs have informed Zaya’s work in fashion and beyond. A descendant of the Kamurape and Guarani Mbya ethnicities, she now lives and works in New York City, where she strives to increase the presence of her community within the industry. “When I became a model, [it was] to grow and raise the voice of my people.”
Since being discovered in Rio de Janeiro at 16, she has leveraged her platform—and ever-expanding social media following—to raise awareness for climate justice, indigenous sovereignty, and representation. Today, Zaya keeps up a marathon roster of speaking engagements for institutions like The United Nations and Slow Factory, an innovative climate lab that emphasizes social equity. “I’m [asking] parliaments to help us be the decision-makers, raise our voices, and fight for this territory that provides safety for the entire world.”
Advocating for significant issues doesn’t mean neglecting life’s small pleasures. At home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, she burns a fragrant incense that reminds her of her grandmother, a trained shaman. Other aspects of Zaya's makeup ritual, like swiping Baby Cheeks blush (in Bichette) on her cheeks and lips, followed by Lit Up Highlight in a glimmering bronze shade (called Brûlée), are a joyful everyday act. “Makeup can secure yourself everywhere that you go,” she says. “In this, I feel like myself.”
The most necessary part of Zaya's routine may be her simplest: time spent immersed in nature, whether back in the Amazon or the urban oasis of New York City’’s most sprawling green spaces. “When I go to nature, my breath changes; I feel my system change,” Zaya says. “I remember who I am and where I come from.”