Australia Awards Fellow organized the first inclusive fashion show in Australia

Nguyen Thao Van, Director of the Will to Live, is the person behind the first inclusive fashion show in Australia which received very positive media coverage. Thao Van, who has been in a wheelchair since she was a child, was in Australia undertaking a DFAT funded Australia Awards Fellowship with the Gender Consortium, Flinders University, Adelaide.

The Inclusive Fashion Showcase, was a unique collaboration between the Will To Live, Chula (a well-known Spanish design house based in Hanoi) and a collective of local women with disabilities. It showcased women with disabilities wearing Chula's cutting edge fusion designs with the message “I am beautiful too, Why not?”

Thao Van and a model of the showThao Van and a model of the show.

The event took place on November 11, 2014 at Flinders University. It was covered by the media in Australia, Vietnam and even Mongolia. Here are the links of some stories on the show:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-26/adelaide-fashion-show-put-people-with-disabilities-in-spotlight/5918952

http://www.todaytonightadelaide.com.au/stories/i-am-beautiful

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FP1x3A3Xips&feature=youtu.be

Van explained why she came up with the idea. “I had long wanted to organize a fashion show similar to “I am beautiful too, Why not?” but never had the opportunity to do so. Why fashion for people with disabilities? “This is because appearance can be a significant barrier for them. This show was a way to encourage them to overcome their daily psychological blocks. I saw the surprise, happiness and pride on the faces of the models after they were made up at the TAFE salon. There were many selfies immediately posted on Facebook. After they dressed up in their Chula designs and walked on the stage, they were really sexy and beautiful. They found themselves beautiful and were proud of their bodies.”

A model of the fashion showA model of the fashion show.

Van spoke about the challenges while working on the show.

“This was my first time in Australia. Everything was so new, I did not have many friends and had no experience organizing an event abroad. I had no budget for it and to organize an event effectively, many things were required: models, clothes, make-up, venue, lighting and sound system, designing and printing, the MC, singers, catering and wine, photos and videos, etc. From the time I shared the idea with my professor Cara (Cara Ellickson, Director of Gender Consortium, Flinders University) and Diego (the designer for the fashion show) until my study fellowship ended, I had only two months and I studied full-time,” she said.

“One of the factors in the success of the program, I think is that I put in practice what Cara said. It was finding highly-committed people to work with me. I was lucky to find these people while I was in Australia. I was mainly the person who gave the ideas and persuaded other people. Those who found donors and helped to organize the program were my disability support person Minh, my mentor Katharine and a new friend of mine who was also a model in the program, Joanne. We have become very good friends and in the future we will support each other in our daily life.”

“I felt very happy, because the models really loved the show. I learned much from it, and it was also an opportunity for me to put into practice what I learned and experienced during my fellowship course in Australia,” she added.

Thao Van visits a farm in AustraliaThao Van visits a farm in Australia.

Van reflected on her experience of living in Australia: “It was difficult to describe my feelings about Australia. Everything I saw, everyone I met left me with great emotion. I went to a second hand market on a sunny day. When I was wondering whether to buy a hat, the seller gave it to me and said: ‘If you want it, you can take it for only $4, simply because you need it.’”

“What is your name? What happened to your leg? Does it hurt? I think you do not want this to happen. I hope everything will be better.” This is what two little kids said to me on a street, the older one is only around five years old.”

“What also struck me was how accessible the city was for me in my wheelchair. For example, accessible buildings, transport and footpaths. This meant I could be much more independent than usual.”

Thao Van called her Australia Awards Fellowship “the best course I have ever taken.”

“The structure of the fellowship was very creative, combining lectures and discussions with field trips to organisations and various events. The ‘Enabling Women’s Safety and Child Protection’ course provided me with new knowledge and experience and will be very useful for me in leading the Will to Live Centre. Women with disabilities are subjected to much higher rates of gender based violence than other women. Children with disabilities experience much higher rates of child abuse and neglect. Armed with this knowledge and my new skills and understanding I am now able to advocate for greater attention and services in these areas. In the future I hope more people with disabilities will have the chance to take part in a fellowship like this one ” she said.