Madeline Stuart down syndrome model, promote greater inclusivity.
Kate Grant, a 20-year-old model with Down syndrome from northern Ireland, is sharing her journey to the catwalk to inspire other women with disabilities to pursue their dreams.
“I feel alive on the catwalk,” Grant told Moneyish of her passion for modeling. “I love all the glamour. I love wearing makeup. It’s lots of fun.”
Grant, a student at South West College in Cookstown, Ireland, landed a campaign with Benefit Cosmetics this month promoting its new eyeliner in ads shared across social media. It’s her dream job, she said, and also a way to help those with special needs see themselves represented.
“I want to build awareness for inclusion for young models and kids with special needs,” she said of using her new platform to bring other women with special needs up with her.
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Grant’s mother, Deidre, signed her daughter up for modelling workshops three years ago where she learned how to walk and pose on the catwalk. Her younger sister served as her stylist, picking out clothes from street style looks to sequins ball gowns for her to practice modeling in. She also learned how to do her hair and makeup. Grant also watched countless YouTube videos of her idols Gigi and Bella Hadid: “I love them because they are amazing. I love their catwalk style,” she gushed.
But when Deidre tried to get her daughter modeling jobs initially, she said some brands rejected her saying there were no booking availabilities. She posted a now viral message on Facebook in October, 2017 with a photo of her daughter in a gown discussing the challenges young people with disabilities face. It received more than 30,000 likes and over 5,000 comments.
“I explained that she wanted to be a model, but every avenue seemed to be closed. I was looking for people to get behind her and support her,” Deidre said. “Kids are very disappointed when they go to various jobs and get refused. She [Grant] felt rejected, and she didn’t feel pretty, so I was trying to reassure her that ‘yes you are pretty. You have to believe in yourself to take little steps toward your goals in life, and keep on believing.’ If you really do want something hard enough, it will happen,” she said.
And it did. Shortly after she put up the Facebook post, Grant was chosen to walk during Belfast Fashion Week, the first time a woman with Down syndrome walked at the event. And last summer, she was featured in a BBC One Northern Ireland documentary where a camera crew followed her journey breaking into the fashion industry. Grant started making headlines in 2018 when she became the first female with Down syndrome to win an international beauty pageant: Teen Ultimate Beauty of the World, where she was chosen out of a pool of around 40 other candidates.
“She uses her voice to the best of her ability to speak out. I think the modeling industry is changing — it’s not just for someone who is 5-foot-11 and tiny. The average woman is not like that,” Deidre said.
In January, Benefit Cosmetics appointed Grant as an ambassador. “Benefit actually contacted us. They had seen a video of Kate from Belfast Fashion Week. They loved her passion for life,” Deidre said, adding that landing photo shoots has been a healthy boost to her daughter’s self-esteem. “Kate is more confident. She has learned so much, and is eager to learn more. She gives it 100%; and she works harder than any model because she has to practice and practice over and over to get it right.”
About 6,000 babies in the U.S. are born with Down syndrome each year, which is about 1 in every 700 babies born, according to the CDC. What’s more, nearly one in five people in the U.S. has a disability, according to Census Bureau data.
Still, many are underrepresented in fields like fashion, despite a number of women with disabilities who have broken historic barriers in recent years. Jillian Mercado, who has muscular dystrophy, signed with IMG Models In 2015. That same year, Australian model Madeline Stuart, who has Down syndrome, made her runway debut at New York Fashion Week. She followed “American Horror Story” star Jamie Brewer, who became the first runway model with Down syndrome to walk New York Fashion Week in February 2015.
Like many of those leading ladies, Grant has high hopes for her modeling career and is determined to make it happen.
“I want to be on the cover of Vogue,” she said, adding that she aspires to model internationally at London, Paris, Milan and New York fashion weeks. “I want all the designers to call me — I am 100% ready. Please call me,” she said.