Marian Avila, a 21-year-old Spanish model with Down syndrome, fulfilled her dream to walk at New York Fashion Week thanks to an Atlanta designer she met through the magic of social media.
And she did it with flair Saturday in the ballroom of a Midtown hotel in evening looks of red and gold, her parents and siblings in the audience and other models who have challenges by her side.
"I felt really happy and I really loved the runway," Avila said through a translator after the Saturday show. "I wanted to show the world that there are no barriers."
No barriers for women of all kinds is Talisha White's mission, as a designer focused on prom, pageant and special occasion outfits and as an active pageant contestant as well.
A model White knew had stumbled on a story about Avila's fashion week dream online. She told White of Avila's quest and they reached out to Avila on Facebook.
"She's been a busy supermodel, meeting with all types of people," White said of the attention Avila and her dream have received in the United States, her home country and across Europe. "I'm very glad for her. She's been meeting with Vogue. She's been meeting with Harper's Bazaar. She's been meeting in different showrooms, different modeling agencies."
Avila is from the Benidorm area, in the province of Alicante in eastern Spain on the Mediterranean coast. She was accompanied by her parents and siblings. At home, she said, "I practice every day," referring to her love of modeling.
"I'm studying modeling and to become an actress," Avila said.
She walked the runway with models young and old, including one in a wheelchair, Tae McKenzie of Charlotte, North Carolina, and a young girl who also has Down syndrome. White's 43 looks were shown like a rainbow with glimmering beaded embellishments on some in red, pink, gold, white, black and rose. Some pageant queens walked the runway, too, with a few in the audience, their sashes and crowns in place.
White, 25, thought of a rainbow to represent "women's empowerment and beauty from the inside out," she said.
"I wanted to show not just one type of girl is beautiful. I like to showcase all types of girls, from pageant girls to models in wheelchairs, models with Down syndrome, models who are 4 feet and told they can never be a model. They are my 'it' girl," she explained.
This isn't White's first time showing at fashion week. Her first show was in September 2016, in a church.
"The pastor was mad because we came early and church was still going on and we were loud," she laughed. "You have to start somewhere."
As for Avila, White "loves giving girls opportunities to blossom and fulfill their dreams."
How will she do that?
"The mission of my business is to change the world one stitch at a time, but I know I'm not going to do that just by making pretty dresses. It's going to be the women who wear those pretty dresses," White said. "People like Marian Avila and Tae McKenzie, who are breaking boundaries in the fashion industry."
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