Renee van den Bogaart is a typical girly-girl. She loves pretty dresses, sparkling jewellery and anything pink.
Jade Laughton, on the other hand, is usually more of a track pants-and-trainers kind of girl. But when she first sees herself in the mirror in an elegant cocktail dress, she stands up straighter and positively glows.
And when they’re asked to be in a photograph, both teens immediately strike model-type poses, their confidence boosted by the stylish outfits that flatter.
Renee (13) and Jade (19) are among a group of children and teenagers taking part in a DVD that offers help when it comes to choosing clothes for people with Down Syndrome.
The New Zealand Down Syndrome Association turned to Farmer’s for advice on finding suitable outfits – which can be challenging for many Down Syndrome children – and the store asked stylist Lisa O’Neill to share her expertise in a DVD that will be available for families throughout the country.
A group of young models have gathered at Farmer’s Botany Downs store, Auckland, to make the DVD and they can’t hide their excitement.
Lisa, who began last week as the Weekly’s fashion editor, has years of industry experience and her in-depth knowledge of what works for people of all body shapes, combined with her caring nature and bubbly personality, makes her the perfect person for the job.
“You guys are going to look so amazing,” she tells a group of youngsters. “Just wait – you’ll hardly recognise yourselves.”
Lisa’s enthusiasm and energy is a revelation to behold. She barely has time to pause for breath as she takes each model to find the perfect clothes and then offers advice on how to wear them. When she sees the youngsters’ expressions as they see their reflections, her face lights up too. “This has been rewarding, and so much fun,” says Lisa.
Because people with Down Syndrome are often short in stature but quite broad, they can have trouble finding garments to fit. Shirts, jackets, tops and dresses that are the right size across the shoulders are too long, as are trousers and skirts that fit around the middle.
“You can understand why, for many of these kids and their parents, it is easier to rely on T-shirts and track pants. But there are times when that’s not appropriate, when they want to be better presented or need to be,” says Lisa.
“Clothes that look good and fit well really can make you feel better about yourself – and that applies to these kids too.”
Renee’s mum Christel van Baalen says Lisa’s styling advice has given her some ideas about the type of clothes that are suitable for her daughter. Renee has just turned 13, but wears size 16 and it can be tricky finding outfits that are age-appropriate.
“Just because something fits, doesn’t mean it is suitable for a 13-year-old, but it can be quite difficult for Renee to understand,” says Christel.
Janene Laughton says she’s gained the confidence to be more adventurous when it comes to helping daughter Jade choose clothes.
“I feel like I have learned a lot,” says Janene. “You never see Jade in anything other than track pants and T-shirts, and she has never worn heels before, so this is quite a big day.
“I’d have never thought to put her in a dress like that but it is very slimming – she looks beautiful,” says Janene, her eyes filling with tears as she watches her daughter.
“It has been my pleasure to help,” smiles Lisa.
For more information on The New Zealand Down Syndrome Association, visit nzdsa.org.nz.