STURGIS, Kentucky. — With the fashion world watching, a girl from Union County, Kentucky is ready to take a little walk down the runway in Los Angeles.
Eleven-year-old Autumn Foster, a fourth-grade student at Sturgis Elementary School, was chosen to participate in the The Trail of Dreams fashion, which will be recorded this week and premiered on YouTube on March 15.
Autumn has spina bifida, a structural birth defect of the spinal cord, and uses a wheelchair. Amy Foster, Autumn’s mother, said the opportunity to participate “came to us”, but was not a complete surprise. Autumn has previously modeled for Kohl’s and Billy Footwear.
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“Fall is so photogenic,” she said. “Her smile draws people in. We are constantly approached on Instagram by people who want her to join their modeling agencies.”
The Runway of Dreams features adaptive clothing designed by mainstream fashion designers for people with various disabilities. Autumn is one of 70 models participating in the show, showcasing clothes from seven fashion brands and several emerging design companies specializing in adaptive clothing.
“It’s a huge thing in the fashion industry right now,” Amy said. “Designers are really focused on adaptive clothing right now.”
Adaptive fashion can include label-free clothing for those with sensory issues; products that can be adjusted to different lengths and sizes for those with limb differences; and clothes that attach with Velcro or magnets, making it easier for people with missing limbs or low muscle tone. Autumn, for example, wears shoes that close around her feet, making it easier to put on the shoes.
People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world and cross all ages, ethnicities and cultures. Foster said she thinks the world is becoming more aware of this, in part because of shows like this.
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“Every day I see the world becoming more inclusive and welcoming for people with disabilities,” she said.
Lately, the representation of people with disabilities has become a key concern in the arts community. New York-based Gamut Talent Management represents models, actors, and other artistic professions to ensure these people are portrayed in movies, commercials, and other visible media — and in doing so, raise awareness for people with disabilities. .
“In general, we haven’t seen people with disabilities in mainstream pop culture,” said Gamut founder Mindy Scheier. “I’ve often heard this quote: ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t dream it.’ But I think that’s changing now.”
Scheier started Gamut and the Runway of Dreams Foundation in 2013. She said she was motivated by her son Oliver, who has muscular dystrophy and struggles to put on and wear clothes. As a fashion designer by trade, it was only natural for her to alter her clothes to suit her needs, and that’s how the idea was born.
“Because of what I saw my son go through, I wanted to change the fashion world to include people with disabilities,” Scheier said. “Fashion shows are important to the industry, so it made sense to create a show.”
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Fashion icon Tommy Hilfiger quickly got involved in the cause. Since then, Scheier said, entertainment and disability awareness in Hollywood has grown by leaps and bounds. The show features people representing many types of disabilities: physical, neuromuscular, cognitive, limb differences and others.
“We want to represent every type of disability that we can,” she said.
Scheier said one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is seeing the confidence people gain by wearing clothes that fit their lives, or simply being able to wear clothes that everyone else wears without having to difficult to enter or move around. She said she was proud to see the fashion industry taking the lead in both helping these people have a better life and in raising awareness for people with disabilities in general.
“The more we see it in the public eye, the more everyone will understand that people with disabilities are just people, first and foremost, with the same dreams, hopes, fears and loves as everyone else.”
The world premiere of Runway of Dreams is scheduled for March 15 on the YouTube channel of the same name. For more information, visit pisteofdreams.org and gamutmanagement.com