The fashion industry has been working hard to diversify models both on social media and on the runway. But when we talk about diversity, the focus is often placed on women of color only. What about women with congenital disorders?
Kate Grant, for example, a model with Down Syndrome, was elected as an ambassador for Benefit’s new eyeliner, and the news has been taking the fashion industry by storm. Benefit first noticed Kate Grant in a documentary she participated in about her trying to break into the beauty industry, BBC’s One Northern Ireland. Kate was also the first teen with Down Syndrome to debut in Belfast Fashion Week. A representative from Benefit shared that “Her amazing energy was so infectious and we were captivated by her incredible zest for life and determination. She embodied everything we stand for as a brand.”
But this isn’t the first time we see a model with Down Syndrome breaking ground in the fashion industry. Madeline Stuart first appeared on the runway in 2015. Native to Australia, we saw her participate in no less than five catwalks during New York Fashion Week last year – and she was the first model with Down Syndrome to ever participate in NYFW. She later went on to walk in four more shows during London Fashion Week last September.
Madeline may be living her dream now, but it wasn’t quite the case when she was younger. Before appearing on any catwalk, Madeline’s health was at risk. After losing 50 pounds and sharing the before and after photos online, her story started to go viral. Her before and after photo got almost 7 million views and earned her 100,000 new followers practically overnight! She became a global sensation. Like Kate, she is now using her influence to educate people in the fashion industry on inclusion.
In light of the fashion industry becoming more inclusive with both women of color and women with congenital disorders, the Radical Beauty Project has undertaken a mission to further open the fashion industry to women with Down Syndrome. Working with over 40 professional photographers, the organization works with models with Down Syndrome only, “challenging opinions and understandings of beauty in contemporary culture. It is a fashion and art photography project blurring boundaries between disciplines, and working to provide an alternative vision for beauty today.” Suffice to say, girls and adolescents have been looking for and experimenting with, alternative visions of beauty for generations.
Women like Kate and Madeline, and organizations such as the Radical Beauty Project are on a mission to prove that the boundaries we believe encompass fashion and beauty are self-imposed and ignorant – and they are about to be broken down.