This is What Inclusivity Looks Like!
On Friday, March 24, Belmont Senior Living in Lincoln Park, Chicago, was abuzz with excitement as Joe & Bella, together with Belmont’s wonderful staff, hosted a first-of-its kind fashion show. The models were all Belmont residents who are living with age-related changes. The fashion show followed two days of a photoshoot starring these same individuals by renowned photographer Thomas Sanders. All models wore our soon-to-be released new line of adaptive apparel.
Twelve Belmont Village residents, average age of 86, made their modeling debut and traveled the runways. Each model wore fashion-forward clothing designed specifically for older adults and people with disabilities.
The models were authentically themselves. Four walked arm-in-arm with a caregiver, three went down the runway in a wheelchair, two with walkers, one with a cane, and one danced magically down the aisle. Everybody’s confidence and joy were on full display. They waved and pointed to their cheering fans in the crowd. Judy, Taimi, MaryLou, Jim, Paula, Joanne, Roger, Richard, Seymour, Susan, and John were the stars of the day.
Joe & Bella Introduces New Line of Adaptive Apparel
Each model wore one or more of Joe & Bella’s newest products from the Everyday Freedom line: Freedom Chinos for men and women; Everyday Button-Down for Men; Freedom Polo for Men; Women’s Everyday Long-Sleeve Top; and the two products that started it all, CareZips® and our Everyday Side-Zip Pants
Mary Lou, who modeled the Everyday Long-Sleeve Top, remarked, “I just love how comfortable the shirt is and that the buttons are part of the top’s style." (The buttons, which run along the top of the shoulder, allow the garment to fully open up for easier dressing.) Joanne, who lives with one leg and uses a wheelchair, added, "The pants are just so comfortable and were really easy to get on."
The Everyday Button-Down for Men was a big crowd-pleaser. Not only was the fit flattering on the models, but the functionality, with its stretch fabric and hidden magnetic buttons, amazed both the models and their care partners.
The crowd overflowed with Belmont Village residents and staff (including some who had flown in from corporate headquarters), family and friends, members of the media, and some surprise special guests. Cheers erupted as each model proudly moved down the runway as their name was announced by the talented emcee, Belmont’s Activity Director Connor Speck. The models did a masterful job in showing off the style and functionality of Joe & Bella’s new clothing. But more importantly, they showed that, at any age and at any ability level, clothing can be a conduit to joy, empowerment, and dignity.
An adult daughter of one of the models shared with us that she hadn’t seen her mother smile like that in years.
When our team first met the models earlier in the week, a few of the residents were hesitant to participate. One told us that she thought that no one would want to see her photographed or consider her “runway material.” Such a reflection of the emotional trauma that often comes with aging in a culture that undervalues those who have aged. But after two full days of the photoshoot in our makeshift studio and throughout Belmont’s beautiful community, the models’ reservations dissipated as their enthusiasm flourished. They felt loved and supported, seen and respected.
Fashion Reflects Our Identity
What we wear is an essential part of our identity. Our disabilities should never mean that we can no longer wear what feels and looks like us. Joe & Bella’s clothes have been creatively and expertly adapted to make them painless and easy to put and off, but with fashion at the forefront. Our designers, who also launched Lululemon, were thrilled with the models’ reactions to our new line. Judy, an 85-year old with a contagious smile, summed it up: “This was an absolutely wonderful day!"
Joe & Bella’s latest products will be available for presale shortly at JoeAndBella.com and at other retailers. Connor, our Emcee and Belmont Village Activity Director, was simply fawning over the clothes throughout the entire week. “The clothes are so flattering and more fashionable than I could have ever imagined.”
We're inspired by our models – knowing they’re models for much more than our apparel. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll share more photos and stories.