A Show for Everyone

FashionAble celebrates everyone at this fall Fashion Week MN with agency and individualism
Kirsta Graf is one of the models for FashionAble, a fall Fashion Week MN event. Hair and makeup are by Reflect Salon.
Kirsta Graf is one of the models for FashionAble, a fall Fashion Week MN event. Hair and makeup are by Reflect Salon.

Madeline Elli for Fashion Week MN

When you think of successful fashion shows, you often think of cohesiveness: a collection by a solo designer, an amalgamation of looks brought together by similar cosmetics or hair styles, curated color palettes or transitions—a unified vision. For FashionAble, a Fashion Week MN show on September 23, it’s the opposite. This fashion show is all about the individuality of the models.

Twenty-two models of all abilities, ages, and ethnicities will be going down the runway at Rosedale Center. The event’s goal is to showcase models with disabilities and to support the nonprofit Best Buddies MN, but it also hopes to help people realize that disabilities look different on everyone and that they are just part of a person’s identity, not the whole. 

Each model will be styled exactly as they want to be. They get to choose the outfit—whatever they “feel the most real in,” as event organizer Jo Buckellew puts it—the makeup, the hair. They get to choose what is said about them by the emcee. Everything is an open-ended question. 

“Honestly, a lot of times it’s the attention and the care that they get in those 30 minutes they’re getting their hair done that means so much more than the end product,” Buckellew says. And it’s this care, this search to complete someone’s desire for joy, that ties all of her work in the disability community together.

An Invitation to Collaborate

Krista Graf, a model in Fashion Week MN's event FashionAble. Hair and makeup by Reflect Salon.
Kirsta Graf, a model in Fashion Week MN’s event FashionAble. Hair and makeup by Reflect Salon.

Madeline Elli for Fashion Week MN

Buckellew isn’t a deep seed in the local fashion community. She is a full-time photographer now, but she has spent years working at nonprofits like Make-a-Wish and ACR Homes, a company that assists people with disabilities in their homes. She founded the Minnesota chapter of Miss Amazing, a pageant for contestants with disabilities that focuses on setting and achieving goals. An opportunity with Fashion Week MN really only arose because Fashion Week MN co-founder Sarah Edwards volunteered at Miss Amazing and asked Buckellew if she would consider putting on an event for Fashion Week MN.

Edwards is perpetually on the lookout for not only inspiration but also experienced event producers. In Buckellew, she found both. “I remember reading some statistics specifically about the disability community and how fashion and just retail in general just completely leave them out,” Edwards says. “This is an opportunity to give a platform and give light and not only on this exciting event but also the problem, to help educate people on it in a way that’s a little more … not in your face angry, but, ‘Hey, this is a group of people that have kind of been left out of the fashion community, and we need to be better at that.’”

An Accessible Perspective

To truly highlight and open up the event to the disability community meant listening instead of directing for Buckellew. She needed a venue that was completely accessible, not just the first floor, so people would feel welcome in all areas. She checked off a few cut-and-dry needs, like nixing strobe lighting for those with seizure disorders, but she also dove deeply into the production. The time commitment was cut down to a minimum to not conflict with any health care appointments; guidelines were created so that volunteers wouldn’t disrespect the models by accident by, say, interacting with a wheelchair without permission.

Because of her work in the community, Buckellew knew all of this, and she hopes to be able to impart a bit of that knowledge and empathy to people who come to FashionAble. Some of it will come through the models and, potentially, through information from the emcee. She wants people to understand why a nonprofit like Best Buddies MN is so important, and she wants people to be more aware of injustices, like how according to federal law, employers don’t need to pay people with disabilities minimum wage. (In Minnesota, a person with disabilities has to be paid at least half of the minimum wage.) But she also wants to share some of the joy and perspective that working in the disability community began to teach her back when she was in college working at ACR Homes.

“The four women that I cared for changed my entire life,” Buckellew says. “On the hardest days, it was always the work of 10 minutes that made them elated, whether it was sitting on the back porch chatting ‘as girls do’ as one of them would say, or a car ride with the windows down because it feels good on a nice, sunny day. … How am I going to make a difference? Forget about tomorrow and next week. I went day by day, shift by shift.”

More Fashion Week MN Events

FashionAble is part of the 14-event fall Fashion Week MN, taking place September 19-28 across the Twin Cities. Besides pillars of fall fashion week like the #Minnstafashion kick off party (theme: super fashion) and Fresh Traditions, the line up is even more unique with workshops and a variety of focuses across the events. Here are some of our other picks: 

  • Slay by Saath—A Body Positive Fashion and Dance Show (September 22): With looks made by people of color and South Asian designers in the Twin Cities, this high-energy event will be a mix of culture, fashion and dance.
  • Warm Winter Nights in Finfine (September 26): Ramadhan Designs hasn’t shared a lot about the event, but there’s something about the title and the idea of infusing modern designs with East African culture and modesty that’s more than a little appealing.
  • Kids Color Fashion (September 28): For six hours over two days, youth ages 5 through 18 will learn about modeling and design or production, which culminates in a fashion show open to the public at the Crayola Experience at Mall of America.
  • Sneak Pleats—When Folding Meets Millinery (September 28): See Karen Morris’ pleat-happy autumn and winter 2019 collection and go behind the scenes with an exhibit on how Morris’ Asian heritage influences her work as well the mathematics and pleating and folding techniques used by Morris and designers around the world.