Ninth annual Fashion Show for All Abilities recap

Maggie Kessenich, Waisman Center Communications Intern

Fashion show model
A model from the 2015 Fashion Show for All
Abilities. Photo by Anthony Gartner

Between wardrobe fittings, hours of coaching, makeup artists, and the moment that first shoe hits the runway, Chantel Brown watched her dream become a reality. Friday, May 29, 2015 marked the ninth annual Fashion Show for All Abilities where 73 models strut their stuff for this community awareness event.

From an early age, Brown developed modeling portfolios to showcase her talent and abilities. She now relies on a wheelchair after suffering from an anoxic brain injury, but this does anything but stop her from pursuing her dream. In 2007, Brown rallied help from her friends, loved ones and the Waisman Center to put together the Fashion Show for All Abilities to promote inclusion, grow self-esteem and celebrate diversity in a retail setting.

The event was organized by Community Outreach Wisconsin at the Waisman Center to promote accessibility and respect for all persons, including people with intellectual and physical differences.

“It increases the awareness of disability issues in the community, but also shares the depth and variety of interests and abilities the models possess,” Rachel Weingarten, the event coordinator, said.

Held at The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, the event was made possible with the generous help from 29 retailers, 50 volunteers and 300 attendees. Models of all ages and abilities were invited to participate, even those without labeled “disabilities”.

KJ Lyn, a professional actress and former model, rehearsed with the models in preparation for the show. For the past six years, she has taught them how to command the runway, sell the clothes, and use their personalities to make the job fun.

“Making the runway fun and non-threatening is my specialty. Modeling is more about acting—if you’re having fun on the runway, the audience will have fun, too,” Lyn said.

Lyn said the best part of rehearsal is when she demonstrates how not to walk the runway, where the models point out what she is doing wrong such as walking backwards, not smiling or leaving the runway altogether.

Gregory Cain, a model from this year, described the event as being one of the most exciting days of his life.

“To say it was fun wouldn’t be giving it, or myself, the credit it deserves,” he said.

Reactions from audience members and participants have been overwhelmingly positive. Models return year after year and continue to change attitudes, promote inclusion, and grow self-esteem and confidence in themselves.

“It’s hard to put in the right words how well everyone looked and how it made you feel inside,” Cain said. The Fashion Show showcased “how beautiful people are inside and out”.