Project Diversity creates a new sort of supermodel


Jane Lee, model, strikes a pose on the runway (Leslie Walker / The Ryersonian)

Fashion show Project Diversity featured supermodels of a different kind: for starters, there was a variety of ethnicities, ages, shapes and sizes.

The show, held on March 24, was produced by fourth-year fashion communications student Kirthiga Rajanayagam.

“I wanted to bring together people who aren’t typically ‘the norm’ when it comes to fashion,” says Rajanayagam. “And what better than a fashion show where they can showcase themselves and their personal styles?”

Fashion weeks in Milan, London, New York and Paris often feature the same type of white, waifs, where beautiful models of different ethnicities become a minority within the industry.

This is why Rajanayagam decided to create a fashion show that showcased regular, everyday beauty, explaining no one is the “norm” — not even models on the magazine covers. “I want the diversity of the models to touch every member of the audience,” she says before the show.

A total of 11 models stomped the runway, from those sporting tattoos to another in a wheelchair. The models wore what they felt the best in — not what they were told to wear — with outfits ranging from dresses and suits to more casual fashion attire.

As they walked, each model’s voice played over a sound system, discussing what diversity and fashion means to them.

“Leading up (to it) I felt calm, then I heard the music, the curtains opened up and the lights hit my face, and I was automatically scared to death,” says model Martin Kaminskyj, who works at Ryerson’s Tri-Mentoring program. “I needed to take it all in, and I started to really enjoy myself.”

“I’ve never been a size zero and there’s nothing wrong with that,” adds Emma Dehez, another model from the show. “It’s not practical for life, people are allowed to eat and be beautiful.”

The runway was composed of two different rooms, where the models walked down a path, struck a pose, then walked into the second room for a second hit before turning back into the curtain.

The show’s diverse participants went through an extensive audition process. The auditions narrowed 30 to 40 potential models down to the 11 who appeared in the show. Rajanayagam approached one model on the subway, because she had the final “look” she was searching for.

“She was stunning, I thought she was a perfect representation of my diversity show. She was an older woman who looked confident in her own skin,” says Rajanayagam. “Everyone can be who they are without judgment.”

The show’s team ensured it ran smoothly, consisting of a DJ, programmer, dressers, an associate producer and a public relations crew.

These volunteers helped with the production from its creation in September 2013 until the final show on Monday.

Helen Saygan, associate producer of the show, didn’t even know Rajanayagam until she saw a posting for help needed. She always wanted to be in fashion and knew this was a project in which she wanted to be involved.

“We put blood, sweat and tears into it and I know after seeing the show tonight that it paid off,” says Saygan.

Ryerson professor Ben Barry was excited to see Rajanayagam’s hard work come together, and believes the atypical approach to fashion is one that could change the industry.

“In many ways, I think this show represents a new way of thinking when it comes to fashion, it’s all very exciting,” says Barry, who owns a modelling agency focused on promoting diversity.

“Everyone should be comfortable in their own skin,” Rajanayagam adds. “Rock it, own it.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 26, 2014.

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