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Madeline Stuart Breaking Down Barriers In Fashion Industry

Roseanne and Madeline Stuart
Tom Dooley
Roseanne and Madeline Stuart

Before Madeline Stuart's modeling career took off, years ago when she was still a baby, her mother Roseanne says she felt really isolated.

"I didn't have any friends with disabilities. There was no one in my family that had children with disabilities. It was just her and I. And there was no information, or the information out there was quite negative."

Things have changed quite a bit since then. When Madeline came to her and said she wanted to be a model, Roseanne didn't expect her daughter's photos to go viral. Now, she's the first internationally recognized model with Down syndrome and the second model with Down syndrome to ever walk at New York Fashion Week.

Roseanne gives social media a lot of credit: not only does it connect people,  it gives them an opportunity to decide for themselves what they think is beautiful. And people around the world find Madeline beautiful, she says, in more ways than one.

"Madeline's always had an impact on people, even at school. She was always the most popular girl in her whole school. She has a way of touching people's hearts."

Madeline is not only getting recognized for her modeling work, she's also inspired a line of handbags. Evermaya is a socially conscious fashion and lifestyle brand based in Rochester. Their Madeline-inspired bags debuted this week at a fashion show at Midtown Athletic Club, with Madeline herself headlining.

Damien Graybelle is the President of Evermaya. He says Madeline's success is not just a an inspiration to people who are affected by disabilities or special needs.

"But really anybody that has challenges to overcome in life. She's somebody that's saying, 'I can do this, and with all the challenges I have in life, I'm becoming a paid professional model," and in an environment that really isn't conducive to necessarily being inclusive."

Five percent of all the money made from the Madeline Bag will go to the national downs syndrome society.

Veronica Volk is a senior editor and producer for WXXI News.