The classroom was transformed into a dressing room for the models that day in 2018, complete with a make-up artist, changing rooms, racks with the fashion hanging on them. Food for the models, the fashion show director, and events volunteers. We had met Jess, one of the models, at an evening event with her grandmother. Seeing all of it made us wonder…What transforms clothes into “the fashion that is hanging on the racks”? What transforms a person into a model? What transforms a sentence into a reality? These are questions that the day of the fashion show offered answers to. First, we saw the difference sunshine makes in a room. You know how you know when joy is in the room? That’s what Jess embodied the day she walked without her crutches in the fashion show. Long ago she declared that she would design fashion for people with disabilities and then left her crutches behind to walk on the catwalk in a fashion show at The Show Gallery Lowertown. As she was prepped and got ready to walk, she quickly learned and integrated what was needed for this particular fashion show. She so completely changed the chemistry of the dressing room that the fashion director even responded to the excitement and acceptance by declaring that it was precisely because models with disabilities were included. As she walked again and again without her crutches, she taught everyone in the big room to challenge their own fears, to feel the power of each step she took while smiling, waving, and confidently showing off the clothes she modeled and wonder what beauty lies in each of us. At the end of the catwalk, she posed for a picture for Tom, our photographer, each time. And in those photos, Jess captured the dream she knew years ago. She brought her vision, her everyday truth, and her spirit of adventure and courage and shared it with all of us. During our first fashion show, Jess became not only a fashion model but a model for everyone who experienced/encountered her that day. It’s the person in the clothes that make the fashion; it’s their stories that shine through that makes a model and it’s people like Jess, not ever fashion; it’s their stories that shine through that makes a model and it’s people like Jess not ever giving up who change what once was considered impossible.

Excerpt from “The Five Year Book” Written by Tina Van Erp

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