It’s not every night that a New York Fashion Week-styled show comes to Sioux Falls. And it’s not every night that show is inclusive of all bodies, abilities and experiences.
The “Style Show: A Runway to Empower,” hosted by Rare By Design, brought together the year-long vision of executive director and founder Kendra Gottsleben to have people with disabilities be visible in the community and to know they have a place within the world of fashion.
“Ultimately what I’m hoping people gain from this event is what seeing what true diversity looks like,” Gottsleben said. “So often when we talk about diversity, it’s always race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and people with disabilities are not often in that conversation. People with disabilities are the biggest minority group because it can cross all minorities.”
Rare By Design is a Sioux Falls non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about people with disabilities and people who have rare diseases. The fashion show is the non-profit’s first event since Gottsleben founded it in 2021.
Since the fashion show was announced, tickets sold out a few days before the event was held.
“I never guessed that would ever happen,” Gottsleben said. “I mean, it’s incredible, but I also feel like it shows that people are hungry for inclusion and understanding diversity.”
Most of the designs, worn by men and women, some abled-bodied, others who have disabilities, some part of the LGBTQIA+ community, were donated by boutiques and shops across Sioux Falls. The models were also able to get glammed up for the night with the help of hired make-up artists.
Models like Abby Bischoff, Adam Jorgensen and Tana Zwart wore clothing from Lauriebelles, Scheels and JuLiana’s Boutique.
Bischoff said it’s really meaningful that more and more stores are starting to carry plus-sized fashion and celebrities like Lizzo are looking like “it girls.”
“We don’t really think of fashion as a necessity. Fashion is kind of seen as that like, fluffy stuff in life,” the 39-year-old said. “But we all have to wear clothes every day and we all want to feel good in the clothes we wear.”
She was also a little teary-eyed during the show’s dress rehearsal.
“So few of us have had this experience before and not only so few of us as models have any experience, but the people in the audience to see a truly inclusive fashion show also a new experience,” Bischoff said.
Throughout the night, applause, cheers and music were the soundtrack that the 17 models strutted or wheeled down the runway to.
But a special inclusion to the fashion show was the adaptive clothing line. Vicki Stewart modeled an adaptive Tommy Hilfiger red dress, which had magnates in the back and soft elastic on the arms.
“It’s really soft, and it really fits well with sitting in a wheelchair,” the 51-year-old said.
She explained that the adaptive dress was made in mind for people with dexterity issues or sensitivity issues.
“I think it’s really just empowering that people took the time to think that and develop it,” she said. “The more comfortable you are in your clothing, the more you’re going to want to shine.”
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Inclusive fashion show celebrates diversity, people with disabilities