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story.lead_photo.caption Courtesy Photo Autumn Audiss says she's "a diverse model myself because of my size 18, 5-foot-10, 260-pound frame; my age (I'll be 30 in October); and my race (Hispanic-American)."

The 2019 Fall Fashion Week in Northwest Arkansas will mark Robin Wallis Atkinson's sixth run as executive director. But this whirling dervish does not believe in letting things get too comfortable.

"The second we get things under control, I'm like, 'Cool -- let's add a bunch more elements that will make it much more difficult,'" she says with a laugh. "I keep us on our toes. I will say that we're getting to the point in the process where we're fine tuning things, and the user experience is better than ever for the guests. We're getting in there and putting all of these nice finishing touches on the experience, partnering with brands to create the right kind of vibe, and getting everybody on board with the mission -- so there are a lot of relationships that are coming into maturity, which is helping us provide a better experience than ever before."

One important part of the organization's mission that continues to grow and expand is its commitment to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of its process.

"The New York fashion industry is really reluctant to embrace body diversity because, on a manufacturing level, it makes a lot of sense to put your head in the sand and say, 'Sample sizes only' -- which start out a 0 and size out at 8," says Atkinson. "But who is an 8? I'm not an 8. I don't know many women in my life who are 8s. Sixteen is a median size for women in this country.

"One of the things that people who have come down from New York to our shows have been impressed by is the fact that we're not only championing it, but also expecting it. Our designers have to have diversity from all angles: age, ability, race, ethnicity and also size, because the fact of the matter is that people come in all different shapes and sizes, and all of them have to wear clothes."

We asked some Fall Fashion Week models to tell us a little bit about their experiences working with the organization.

Autumn Audiss

Q: How did you get involved in NWA Fashion Week?

A: A friend of mine sent me a link to their Facebook page and suggested I go to the open audition that they were having for the spring '18 shows. I was already modeling full time for a living as a plus-size fit-model for Walmart and had been wanting to venture into other types of modeling, so this opportunity was perfect! I went to the auditions, got a call back and my runway career had officially begun.

Q: How do you feel about the NWA Fashion Week's commitment to diversity and inclusion?

A: It felt so amazing to be welcomed into the NWAFW family with such open arms and such a strong love for all types of models. I am such a diverse model myself because of my size 18, 5-foot-10, 260-pound frame; my age (I'll be 30 in October); and my race (Hispanic-American). But I never felt out of place on the runway because of all the love I received backstage from the staff and fellow models, a lot of whom are just as diverse themselves.

Q: What's the most exciting thing that has ever happened to you on a runway?

A: Definitely when I got to model in a bathing suit twice during the NWAFW spring '19 shows. As soon as I began to walk, the audience went crazy with cheers and happy words of encouragement as I strutted fiercely by. I felt like such a success to the plus-size community!

Stevi Casey

Photo by Hannah Hall of The Gray People Model Stevi Casey says "being able to create an inner calm before stepping on the runway is key to a confident walk."

Q: How did you get involved in NWA Fashion Week?

A: My first time walking for NWAFW was the fall 2017 show. I had attended the summer 2017 Black Apple Awards runway shows to support my friend, Jen Davenport, and the designer she was walking for encouraged me to try out. Modeling seemed out of my element, but Jen was a huge supporter; she went with me to auditions, and gave me pointers, as I didn't have any modeling experience.

Q: What's the most important skill for a runway model to have?

A: In my experience, being able to create an inner calm before stepping on the runway is key to a confident walk. The ability to not let the backstage commotion impact your demeanor onstage is an art.

Q: How do you feel about the NWA Fashion Week's commitment to diversity and inclusion?

A: Fashion isn't meant to just be appreciated by a certain demographic, so why would we limit the aesthetics of the models showcasing the fashion? Fashion inclusiveness allows a broader range of viewers to relate to the images, and I'm proud to be a part of this movement with NWAFW.

Mary Borman

Courtesy Photo Model Mary Borman rocks a runway in New Jersey.

Q: How did you get involved in NWA Fashion Week?

A: I tried out last spring for Fashion Week, and I was chosen to model but I couldn't attend because I had a prior commitment. Now I'm ready to try it again. My friend Ashley Little told me about it and, by the way, my boyfriend is a model.

Q: What's the most exciting thing that has ever happened to you on a runway?

A: I love to see people smiling, screaming for me and taking pictures. It is really exciting. I really love pretty clothes, especially dresses.

Q: What's the most important skill for a runway model to have?

A: I think confidence and good self-esteem are the most important, and being excited and having fun.

Q: How do you feel about the NWA Fashion Week's commitment to diversity and inclusion?

A: I think I have a different and unique look. Everyone is different in their own way and beautiful. I am so excited to do this and so happy that I was chosen.

Dinesh Hingoo

Courtesy Photo Model Dinesh Hingoo walks in clothing designed by Don Morphy.

Q: What is your favorite part of the runway experience?

A: The culture that goes on behind the scenes. Everyone is so accepting, supportive and welcoming of each other. It really is amazing to see people that you would not know otherwise build you up, and it feels so good. Of course I love wearing the different outfits to show off and to show myself off in, but it's really the support I've gained from everyone that keeps me coming back.

Q: What's the most exciting thing that's happened to you on a runway?

A: When I was modeling for Stitches, I [had to wear] two outfits for them, so in the back where we were lined up to walk, I had to change into a completely different outfit at a rapid pace. That was great fun.

Q: How do you feel about the NWA Fashion Week's commitment to diversity and inclusion?

A: [To me, it means] that anyone has the ability to be creative in their own way, whether that is becoming an artist, designer or model. From my experience, I've seen all shapes, sizes, looks and personalities having a blast being themselves. I think that fashion is something anyone can be a part of because everyone has their own unique style. I think this statement is so important because there are young teenagers, adults and adolescents who think that they have to fit in based on what they wear and use, so because of people from NWAFW, young adults and teenagers can look up to models that look just like them. Because of NWAFW, those people who feel pressured can wear what they feel like wearing, and they can feel prideful of their own style.

Erica Graser-Gates

Photo by Jackson L. Gates NWAFW model Erica Graser-Gates holds the title of Ms. Wheelchair Arkansas 2019.

Ms. Wheelchair Arkansas 2019

Q: Are you more excited or nervous about this event?

A: I'm the ninth of 10 kids, so I'm not nervous! I am excited about being included -- what an honor to be included. I'm also super excited about the inclusion and the diversity. I think showcasing women of all shapes and sizes is amazing.

Q: What do you hope comes of your involvement with NWAFW?

A: I'm such an advocate, and I'm all about empowerment of women, especially those women that go above and beyond in their community. I'm excited just to connect. I tell everyone, everything I do today, every path that I forge, is for the next generations behind me. I don't care if you're one year behind me or 20 -- what I'm doing is for your tomorrows.

Q: How do you feel about the NWA Fashion Week's commitment to diversity and inclusion?

A: I will tell you: It's so important, because the disabled community is so underserved, and the reality is in every single person's lifetime you will either directly or indirectly be affected by wheels -- that's the bottom line. The other important part is bridging that gap between walkers and rollers: Showing that women in wheelchairs are just as beautiful and gorgeous and sexy and fashion forward and have just as much attitude as any other woman out there -- we just do things a little differently sometimes. But doesn't everybody?

Wayne Hawkins

Q: How did you get involved in NWA Fashion Week?

A: I retired from Florida and moved back to Arkansas and started teaching at North Arkansas College in Harrison. I was looking for something else I could do, something different, that I had never done before. I thought modeling would be interesting.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your first experience with walking on a runway?

A: When we were all gathering backstage, it was total chaos -- everyone going in different directions, all of the nervous chatter and giggling, people looking for makeup artists and hair stylists, and photographers running all over the place. I was trying to get it straight in my mind how it was going to come together. Then they line you up, and the moment that you step out onto stage is so exciting -- when that spotlight hits you and the music comes up, that's the most exciting part, and it looks so organized when the models are coming down the runway.

Courtesy Photo Model Wayne Hawkins pauses in a spring NWAFW runway show.
Photo courtesy Ana Ortiz at Sorella Photography Model Bri'Ana Meriweather is the picture of autumn in this design from Samantha's Garden. Northwest Arkansas Fall Fashion Week starts Oct. 3.

FAQ

NWA Fashion Week

Fall 2019

WHEN — 6:30 p.m. Oct. 3-5; doors at 6 p.m.

WHERE — Jett Aircraft, 4500 S. School Ave. in Fayetteville

COST — $25-$150

INFO — 422-7305, nwafw.com

FYI

NWAFW

Event Details

Oct. 3 — The Future of Fashion: Featuring Gabrielle Korn, former editor-in-chief of NYLON, with runway shows by Basana Chhetri, Big Sister, Ethwes, Herron Hats, Hope & Faith, Robbie’s Era, Rosie Rose.

Oct. 4 — A mix of ready-to-wear, high-end suiting, avant-garde and “a blurring of the lines between art and fashion” with commercial vendors 59th and 9th, Anna Grace Formals, Hubbard Clothing Co., LOLA, Skye on the Town and Suite One; and designers 4ME Jayla Lee, Crystal La’Shay, Felix Bui, Framed in Fashion, RubyRu Designs and Samantha’s Garden.

Oct. 5 — Designer apparel, featuring designers 2 Boudoir Chicks, Ashton Hall – The Collection, Bizarre Couture, christianMICHEAL, Elizabeth, Ellen Elaine Educational Collaboration, HOUSE OF COLBY, Off the Record, Onemanband and The R Gene.

INFO — nwafw.com

NAN What's Up on 09/22/2019

Print Headline: Diversity And Inclusion

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