See the Model With Down Syndrome Who Will Shake Up New York Fashion Week

August 17th 2015

Kyle Jaeger

Madeline Stuart has exceeded expectations for most of her life, overcoming social barriers that have long kept people with disabilities out of the spotlight. But the 18-year-old model from Brisbane, Australia, who has Down syndrome, has once again entered the national spotlight after landing one of the most exclusive gigs in the fashion industry: Stuart signed to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week.

The teen is working with a group called MODA in association with the Christopher Reeves Foundation, the latest in an incredible series of achievements that Stuart has seen play out this year. Though the fashion industry has long been criticized for its exclusivity, that has not kept Stuart from pursuing her dreams.

She first made headlines when photos she posted of herself on Facebook went viral, launching her modeling career and sparking a conversation on social media about the challenges of stigmatization that people with disabilities face. Since then, Stuart has received countless inquiries for international modeling opportunities—the most recent and high-profile example being NYFW, a semi-annual fashion series known in the industry as one of the "Big Four"—and that is just the beginning, Rosanne Stuart, Madeline's mother, says.

"When we were asked to do New York Fashion Week, it didn't surprise me," Stuart's mother told Cosmopolitan. "I don't think anything really surprises me anymore."

"The world wants to be inclusive, it just hasn't had anyone on such a platform that they were able to do it easily... Imagine in 10 years what society will be like for people with disabilities. It's not going to be how it is now, it's going to be the norm. It's probably going to be cool to hang out with someone who has an intellectual disability because you know that they care more about emotions than they do about the materialistic world."

One of Stuart's biggest fans, American Horror Story's Jamie Brewer was the first Down syndrome model to walk the runway at NYFW. Brewer met Stuart in Los Angeles recently, and the disability rights advocate said that she has been following Stuart's burgeoning career on social media. Supermodel Karlie Kloss was also among the first to follow the teen on Twitter, where Stuart engages her growing audience and posts updates on upcoming events.

The model's Instagram account saw an enormous public response this year. She now has more than 60,000 followers, more than 437,000 Facebook likes, and the account has also inspired several fashion-forward hashtags, including #Madeline, #HairGoals, and #RelationshipGoals.


Another fantastic photo by the amazing Erica and her team which are all tagged. These guys are brilliant

A photo posted by Madeline Stuart (@madelinesmodelling_) on

Stuart has also been working with the handbag company, EverMaya, which announced the launch of a new handbag line this week, named "The Madeline." Five percent of sales from that line will be donated to the National Down Syndrome Society, the company said.

Stuart's mother says that she has been encouraged by the attention and support her daughter has received. "The thing I'd like people to take away from this is to not discriminate," she commented. "Don't judge a book by its cover."

"I would just like people to accept, love, and show kindness. That's all this is about for us. The modeling is fun and everything, but it's just a vehicle to get the message out. I think that's why she's done so well, is because this isn't about us. It's about fighting the fight for all the people out there that are a bit different that need to be loved."