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Meet Madeline Stuart, the world’s first model with Down Syndrome

A girl in a floral dress standing on the beach at sunset, Madeline Stuart.

Madeline Stuart is a globally-recognised supermodel—the world’s first international model with Down Syndrome, and she is living proof that when you believe in your dreams and work hard to achieve them, anything is possible.

Her mother, Rosanne, never thought an outing to a local fashion show in their hometown of Brisbane, Australia would lead to Madeline dedicating herself to becoming a model and making her dreams come true. Long story short—they did come true. After posting a transformation photo on Facebook, she went viral and gained 100,000 followers overnight. For the six consecutive seasons since, she has walked on some of the world’s most famous runways in New York, Paris, London, Dubai and more. And in 2017, Forbes named Madeline number one for Diversity in the Fashion Industry.

So, to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, we caught up with Madeline to find out how her life has changed since posting that photo in 2015, who inspires her daily and what exactly her next move is.

Can you run me through an average day in your life?

An average day for me changes all the time but I am always busy working. I travel the world doing photo shoots, catwalks, interviews and philanthropy work about six months of the year and when I am home, I am helping run my dance company InsideOuside Dance in Brisbane. In my free time I love catching up with my friends and boyfriend Robbie, going to the movies or the theatre. I love playing cricket and basketball and I try to play as much sport as I can to keep fit and healthy.

What was your first thought when you got the call to say you would be walking on the runway at New York Fashion Week?

Our initial thoughts were that we couldn’t believe it was happening! We were so excited, shocked and overwhelmed with how quickly everything was happening.  It was a truly amazing thought to know that fashion was beginning to diversify and that we were able to be a part of that change.

How does it feel to walk the runway on a global stage?

It feels so wonderful! Every time I am on the runway, I feel so happy, proud and excited to be doing what I love. Inspiring others to be able to achieve their dreams and never give up is what I love doing most. Walking on at global stage allows me to inspire others more than I could have ever imagined.

What is one obstacle you’ve had to overcome that you are really proud of?

Placing a monetary value on my participation in events was the biggest obstacle that we have had to over-come. In the beginning, some companies unfortunately didn’t see me as a professional model and wouldn’t always want to pay me, instead offering for me to walk for the experience. However, we are so proud to have broken this boundary and to have set a standard in not just the fashion industry but in any professional working environment, that every person with or without a disability deserves to be paid.

And is there anything you feel you’re yet to overcome?

Yes of course, the fashion industry has achieved so much with diversity but there is always more we can do to make the world a better place and initiate change. We are striving to achieve the goal that one day it won’t be amazing that I am walking on the catwalk, but it will be a normal everyday occurrence!

What is your advice for women who think they will never achieve their wildest dreams—whether due to disability, fear or any other limiting circumstance?

My best advice is to be confident in your ability, everyone is beautiful, smart and capable so whatever your goals are work hard to achieve them! Never give up, everyone has set backs, but it is how we deal with those set backs that make us stronger and they shape us into successful people.

Do you ever feel like even your own dreams are too big and how do you keep pushing forward to achieve them anyway?

I have so many goals I want to achieve each year and I never worry about if they are too big or not because I know if I continue to work hard things will always work out. My passion for making the world a more inclusive place is always driving me to keep going, I am constantly thinking about the bigger picture which helps me to stay on track.

What is the proudest moment of your career so far?

It was definitely my first catwalk at New York Fashion Week. It is a feeling I will never forget, I walked for a designer named Hendrik Vermeulen and he had the same dreams as me to change the world for the better. It made the experience even more incredible and something I will cherish forever. I was very proud of the fact that my first walk meant so much to others and I was able to inspire them to achieve their dreams too.

Who is the biggest inspiration in your life?

My mum. She has always inspired me to be the best version of me. She has told me every day from the time I was born that I am beautiful, smart, capable and loved. I would not be who I am today without my mum and I am grateful for everything she has done and how she inspires me every day.

What dream project do you want to achieve next?

This year I would love to start walking for and working with some bigger brands like Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger and Versace, we are really positive that brands like this are continuing to diversify so we are very hopeful for the year ahead! And of course, it’s every model’s dream to walk for Victoria’s Secret, so that is definitely another goal of mine!

Disclaimer:  Madeline Stuart’s answers were written with the assistance of her mum, Rosanne Stuart. If you’d like to follow Madeline’s journey, you’ll find her here, on Instagram and Facebook.
Image supplied by Madeline Stuart.

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