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The fashion industry according to Madeline Stuart, the world’s first professional model with Down syndrome

Inclusion and diversity in Fashion has been an endless battle for decades and one we’re slowly starting to fight. So, when we first set eyes on Madeline – The world’s first model with down syndrome, we were thrilled to see a young, brave woman taking on the fashion industry and setting an example for models, brands and fashionistas to follow. We spoke to the 21-year-old about her career so far, her biggest achievements and what she hopes we can do together to inspire more inclusion and diversity in the runways.

Debut: Hi Madeline, it’s been four years since you decided to take on the modeling world, and have now walked the runways of New York and London Fashion Week, as well as being featured in Forbes magazine and loads of other great publications. Did you predict this level of success at all? 

No never, I actually did not even understand this world or this level of success. It has been an amazing journey, one I am so proud of and I hope will continue long into the future.

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Debut: What was your favourite show at LFW SS19 and why? 

My favourite show was the Swedish School of Textiles through Fashion Scout. The designers were so amazing to work with, they were actually arguing over who would get to have me on the catwalk and I ended up walking for four designer instead of three like all the other models. I love these shows as they are always pushing boundaries as the designers are so young and energetic.

Debut: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career so far?

Being treated like a professional, a lot of people for a long time did not realise that I work the same hours and just as hard as other models if not more, I start my day early and work well into the night, this fashion season alone I have been involved in 18 shows over 17 days in 2 different countries. I did not stop and was quite exhausted by the end.

D: The fashion industry is known to be ruthless, non-inclusive and very superficial, were you ever worried about how you may be perceived when you decided you wanted to be a model?

No, I don’t think like that, life is about living and that is what I plan to do, if someone wants to be negative that is a reflection of how they feel about the world and themselves, if someone does not want to include me that is their right but that will not stop me moving on and working with the next person or brand. Plus people soon realise that I have a lot of support from both the industry and the press so it is usually in their favour to include me. And, with time things have changed and we are becoming more inclusive so it is becoming a lot easier to get booked for work.

D: That is right, inclusion and diversity are still a real challenge for the fashion industry. What do you think we can do as a society to help push for that to change?

We need to speak up, I get so much work as I have such a big following on social media which tells brands that people believe in me and my work. If you want to create a more diverse world, please find me and other people like me on social media and follow us, as only with your support can our careers continue to grow as your support tells them you want to see us representing their brands.

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D: What other models inspire you and what’s your ultimate career goal?

Karlie Kloss, Halima and Winnie Harlow really inspire me, Karlie as she works hard to promote women and Halima and Winnie as they are fighting for inclusion as well. My ultimate career goal is to be signed with a big agency and walk for brands such as Michael Kors, Burberry, Mulberry etc.

D: You’ve also launched your own clothing line and have a dance school. How do you stay motivated and keep on top of everything?

Life gives me motivation, I love life, I love people and I love our world, we are so blessed to be alive with so many opportunities, if we open our hearts and our mind to possibilities.

D: What advice would you give other aspiring models?

Prepare to work very, very hard if you want to be successful, also be prepared to get a lot of rejection as that is the industry but if you can get past those to obstacles then you will have an amazing time.

D: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have of anyone with Down syndrome? 

That we are not capable of great things, that we are not commercially viable and that we are always happy, trust me I am not always happy as everyone has their good and bad days. I get sad, grumpy and irritable at times just like everyone else.

D: Finally, tell us three fun facts about you, not many people know. 

Where ever I go in the world you will always find me at the local ten pin bowling alley, I love to dance to Gangnam Style every time I hear it and if there is a mirror I will probably check myself out to make sure my lippy is just right.

We all know that behind every successful woman there’s another supporting her and cheering her on and it’s no different for Madeline who’s career began because of her mum Roseanne. We speak to Roseanne about what it’s like to be Madeline’s support system. 

Debut: Hi Roseanne, you must be so proud of Madeline, tell us a bit about your journey with her from supporting her modeling career to watching her grow from teen to young woman and take on the fashion world…

Roseanne: I really don’t know where to start or how to put into words the amazing journey we have had. Madeline is my best friend, she is my companion in life, we have done everything together for such a long time I don’t know what I would do without her. She truly puts a smile on my face every single day. She is the oxygen that gives me a reason to fight so hard for inclusion and diversity.

I sometimes walk down the street and stare at people and feel sad that they probably will never get to experience the unconditional love I get to feel every day from my daughter. I know that sounds strange but when she was very young I could feel people staring at us and I know they were feeling sorry for me thinking my life must be hard raising a child with a disability but now I have a giggle as I stare at them thinking they are the ones missing out.

Madeline’s life was always fast paced, that is how she was raised, I am definitely the sort of person that lives life to the fullest so she just learnt that lifestyle, but the last four years has taken things to a whole new level, people ask me to tell them about the things we have done and the places we have traveled and there are just too many things to describe. 

Debut: What are three things you tell Madeline to ensure she remains confident and motivated? 

I have always told Maddy the same things right from when she was a little baby, every day I tell her a few times, how beautiful she is, how smart, how funny, how clever and how lucky I am that she is my daughter. I usually tell her every morning when she wakes up, at least twice during the day and before she goes to bed. I never wanted her to have any doubts about who she was and how lucky the world was that she was in it.

I don’t’ think people tell each other enough how great they are, unfortunately, I find our world looks at the negatives and the pain instead of seeing the beauty most of the time.

What advice would you give parents/carers raising a child with Down Syndrome or any other disability?

I would say it will be hard work, there will be tears and heartache, there will be days when you say “why me” but most of the days you will smile, laugh, your heart will burst with love and remember it is hard for every parent, just  because your child has a disability does not mean it is harder, it is just different, when other parents are worried that their kids are doing drugs, drink driving or driving cars to fast you will be worried that your kids might not be accepted, everyone has fears yours a just different. Every parent struggles, every parent sometimes wonders if they can get through another day, it is part of being a parent but you will and you will be a better person for it, stronger, smarty and definitely more compassionate. It will truly be the greatest gift you could ever have.

We love how supportive you are of Madeline, what’s been the most gratifying achievement to date? 

Her, every day she picks my hand up and kisses it and says thank you, usually for no reason except she is an amazing person, we may be driving along in the car and I am resting my hand on the gear stick, she will reach over, pick it up and kiss the back of my palm and smile at me and say thank you mum. I think when someone is grateful to you and shows that gratitude nothing is too hard or too much effort. It is a joy having her and knowing I am her hero. That is every parent’s dream.

You can follow Madeline’s journey on Instagram at @madelinesmodelling_ and let us know your thoughts on this feature at @debutmagazineuk 


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