Madeline Stuart: “Inclusion and diversity are worth fighting for”

She’s been featured in top magazines including the likes of Vogue, walked the runways of New York, Paris and Milan Fashion Week, and been named number one for Diversity In The Fashion Industry by Forbes – but Madeline Stuart is no ordinary supermodel. The first professional model with Down syndrome, Madeline is strongly proving that having a disability needn’t get in the way of greatness.

Attending a fashion show in August 2014 with her mum, Madeline decided then and there she wanted to be a model – and began working hard towards her goal. Losing 20 kilograms and gaining a large online following highly supportive of her dream – Madeline and her mum began taking steps towards making her ambitions possible. Fast forward three short years, and Madeline is living out her dreams on a daily basis.

Here, we chat to the Australian model about everything from a typical week in her life, to dealing with negativity, to her biggest career pinch me moment to date…

It must be incredibly difficult to put into words, but how would you describe the feeling of taking a debut step onto a Paris Fashion Week runway?
Exciting, fun, amazing, beautiful, blessed. I really am so honoured to be given this opportunity and I would never have gotten here without all the support of my followers on social media and also the support of the press and media outlets like yourself supporting me and sharing my story. So I really am so very grateful to everyone for believing in me.

What goes through your mind when strutting down that strip? Are you ever daunted by the vast amount of VIPs and high profile fashion faces in the audience?
I am just trying to contain my excitement as I know I am supposed to be walking with no emotions and being super professional. I try and stay serious, but then sometimes the crowd cheers and I occasionally smile or wave as I am just so happy and so grateful for their support – and then I see my manager and I pull myself back into no emotion model mode and continue on with my job. I just am so happy and excited to be there – being nervous or feeling daunted is definitely not on my radar. My happy place is on the catwalk.

For anyone out there that feels as if they are prevented from achieving their ‘sky’s the limit’ dream – whether it be a disability, fear or one of any other myriad limitations – how would you encourage them to give it a go?
Don’t give up on your dream. If you think you are struggling, think about your support group – it could be your family or friends that may be able to help you. I could not do this if my mum wasn’t helping me. When I meet someone that I know has an interest in what I am doing and they offer to help – I never say no, everyone needs help and support so don’t be afraid to ask for it. It takes an army to win the war and to me, inclusion and diversity are worth fighting for.

Next on your list is the infamous bikini shoot. How do you plan to prepare for this and what would it represent for you to feature in this kind of shoot?
A bikini shoot is one of the things I would like to do. After travelling for the past 8 weeks in Europe, I am trying to get back into shape so I am ready to flaunt my stuff. I am currently in the gym 6 days a week working hard. I think doing a bikini shoot is sexy and I want people to know I am 21, I am not a child anymore and it is ok for me to feel sexy just like any other 21-year-old woman.

Are there ever days where you feel disenchanted? How do you overcome moments of doubt and demotivation?
I think everyone has down days, mine are few and far between – but they are there, especially when I am not on the road working. I get bored, I suppose I talk to my friends a lot – especially my BF Robbie who I probably drive insane with all my calls – but then I get a new job or start planning a new project and everything is smiles and whistles. Because I do so much exercise, my happy endorphins keep away the blues.

We hear you’re busy working on an upcoming clothing collection. Could you explain to us the aesthetics of the line and what the collection will entail?
It is just in the early stages at this point, but it will be more of a winter line with a few casual pieces everyone can buy from my website. We are also in the middle of doing my online shop, so we will be relaunching that again shortly – which is very exciting.

What mantra, phrase or piece of advice, if any in particular, do you try to live by?
Just live life to the fullest, be kind to the people you meet as you don’t know what struggles they are overcoming, and always believe in yourself and stay true to yourself.

Run us through a rough week in your life…
I live 2 very different lives depending on the time of year it is. From February to April and Sept to November I am in fashion model mode – my life is on a plane, in a hotel room, or strutting the catwalks somewhere in the world. During that time, my usual day starts about 10am and finishes around 10pm when the catwalks are finished. If I am not on the catwalk, I am in hair and makeup or doing photo shoots somewhere – I am my happiest at this time.

The other months of the year I live a more normal life going to class with my friends 3 days a week and working on campaigns or my fashion line the rest of the week. You will still find me doing photo shoots every other weekend or promoting something or other. At the moment I am very excited as I am just about to start a campaign with Global Down Syndrome and Paper Clouds to raise money through selling t-shirts with my artwork on them. But no matter where I am, you can always find me at some time of the day at the gym – a girl has to keep in shape!

When encountering words of criticism, cynicism and negativity, how do you find the courage to push on and keep believing in your goals?
When people are negative, it is usually a reflection of how they feel about themselves. I do not listen, I do not let it worry me, it has nothing to do with me at all. I am more interested in the positive things happening in my life and my beautiful supporters.

Who has been the most inspirational or encouraging person you have met along this trajectory from everyday girl to modelling sensation?
There has been so many that I don’t think I can name just one. I have been encouraged by the love I have been shown over and over again, by the people reaching out to me on social media and telling me to never give up, telling me that I give them hope and that they love me and support me. My supporters are my hero, as without them I would not be where I am today.

If you could organise a pre-runway coffee catch-up with ANY individual or group of people from the fashion industry, who would it be and why?
OMG I would love to meet Anna Wintour, she is the queen of fashion and Karlie Kloss – that would make me a very happy girl.

What has been your biggest ‘pinch me’ career moment to date?
I think the night I spent dancing with Jamie Foxx (at the Be Beautiful, Be Yourself fashion show). He was so lovely and I had such a great time. Now we are friends on Instagram and he sends me a message every so often and says hi –that is pretty cool.

Which designer(s) would you love to be able to model for next?
I would do anything to model for Ralph Lauren, Donatella Versace, Tom Ford or Pierre Cardin.

Images of Madeline Stuart shot by Carri Angel Photography at St. Paul’s Cathedral | Words by Yelena Fairfax | Interview by Genevieve Phelan

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