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Student in wheelchair with teacher and design

FashionABLE for a Cause

This spring, fashion design students from six high schools in San Antonio, Texas, joined forces for an incredibly worthy cause.

FashionABLE, created by the local non-profit Spina Bifida Texas, occurs annually. Its primary goal is to raise awareness for children with Spina Bifida and other physical challenges by pairing high school fashion design students with differently abled children to create garments made specifically for them.

“There couldn't be a program out there that deserves more of a highlight nationwide - even worldwide,” says Laura Rohm, the fashion design instructor from Wagner High in San Antonio. “I know they have fashion design programs all over the world and if we could start educating young designers to look past the norm, we could have so many more options for people of different abilities worldwide.”

FashionABLE has become an integral part of the fashion design program throughout the San Antonio school district. “With so many learning opportunities—from working with real life clients, problem-solving with real-world solutions, and providing high school students a look into other lifestyles outside their own—the designers inevitably come out of the experience changed for how they view differently abled people,” continues Ms. Rohm. “They realize that their clients are kids just like themselves who want to look good and be independent in their clothing choices.”

Students on stage

According to Spina Bifida Texas Executive Director Rosanne Gonzales, FashionABLE began under the leadership of former director Nora Oyler. Nora’s daughter, Cynthia, was born with Spina Bifida, which resulted in paralysis in her lower body, thus leaving her confined to a wheelchair. Following their attendance at a local fashion show, Cynthia asked her mom if she could ever model. Nora sought out opportunities for her daughter, and when she couldn’t find any, she partnered with local fashion design instructor Sandy Starr and created FashionABLE. Ms. Starr wrote the curriculum to highlight all the aspects of accessible fashion. The foundation of that curriculum is still used today. “Teachers who participate in FashionABLE change it to meet certain benchmarks, which helps our program to become better every year,” explains Ms. Gonzales.

Ms. Gonzales goes on to describe the impressive transformation of each student designer. Throughout the process, she sees an increase in knowledge, compassion, and empathy from each student. The designers and their models form lasting bonds and friendships.

This year’s FashionABLE event was all the more special because many of the participants had not seen one another for over two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “My favorite part was seeing the light in the models’ eyes when they saw their friends,” says Ms. Gonzales.

FIDM Representatives have provided numerous classroom presentations and support to fashion design classes within the San Antonio school district, both in-person and virtually. Learn more about FIDM’s Just for Educators resources.

For more information about FashionABLE and Spina Bifida Texas, please visit https://www.sbtx.org.