It’s no secret that the fashion industry is becoming more diverse.
From embracing plus sized models to including various cultures, little by little, fashion designers have made progressive strides towards open-mindedness and inclusiveness rather than the exclusive stigma the industry has developed.
When Madeline first walked down the catwalk at New York Fashion Week in 2015, she made headlines as the first ever professional adult model with Down’s Syndrome.
Fast forward two years and Australian-born Madeline is now 20-years-old and continuing to make a name for herself in the fashion industry.
Only this time, she’s doing it both on and off the catwalk.
In a bid to further change the perspective of people with disabilities, Madeline returned to New York Fashion Week last month with her new label, 21 Reasons Why by Madeline Stuart, which plays off the main characteristic of Down’s Syndrome – an extra copy of chromosome 21.
Like many teens, Madeline’s dream growing up was to become a model. But in an industry so exclusive to one type of casting, it wasn’t easy for the 20-year-old to break into fashion.
After attending a fashion parade in 2015, Madeline knew she wanted to become a model.
Her mum, Rosanne, told UNILAD:
I had to explain to her that she couldn’t just climb up on the stage and model, which didn’t go down well as you can imagine. But I also knew at that moment that my daughter was going to do something special.
Her hobby at the time, dancing, saw her lag behind the other girls because she was not as fit as she needed to be to keep up – and that’s when Madeline decided to make a change. Dumping sweets and picking up exercise seven days a week, she eventually lost 20kg over a period of 14 months.
After losing weight, Rosanne created a Facebook page to showcase Madeline’s modelling photos, which quickly went viral.
So many people said she was an inspiration. She gave people hope that their children living with Down’s Syndrome would achieve anything they set their mind to.
Now, having challenged fashion industry and societal norms, Madeline is a voice for people not only with Down’s Syndrome, but for those looking to fulfil their dreams.
Maddy receives hundreds of messages a day, not only from people with DS (Down’s Syndrome) but from people of all walks of life, people thanking her for giving them courage to go back to school, give up drugs, follow their dreams and have faith in themselves, families thanking her for giving them strength that their child with special needs will be okay and there is hope in the future.
Madeline’s response? That they should always believe in and stay true to themselves.
And the 20-year-old barrier-breaking model is proof of that, having walked catwalks in Paris, New York and Dubai. She is also booked to walk the runway at Los Angeles Fashion Week as well as Denver Fashion Week, and to prove that disability does not define a person, Madeline will also continue to make appearances at schools and events to spread her message.
But while diversity in the fashion industry is rising, the movement still has a long way to go. After examining 116 major New York shows and tallying 2,700 runway appearances at New York Fashion Week’s Fall 2017 presentations, The Fashion Spot reported that 68.5 percent of castings were white and 31.5 percent were nonwhite – only a slight improvement over the 30.3 per cent reported for Spring 2017.
Overall, plus-size models made up just 0.43 percent of castings, and transgender women made up just 0.17 percent of all model castings, the least represented group this season. Disabled models are still few and far between.
But for the first time ever in New York Fashion Week history, every single runway included a model of colour.
Whether it be race, weight, sexuality, or disability, fashion designers are taking small steps in the right direction. The main issue here is awareness, and people like Madeline are helping to push it forward.
No one ever said change was fast, but we’re making progress.