Fashion Rule Breakers

Champion Gymnast With Down Syndrome Becomes A Model, Paving The Way For Others Like Her

"I went to some modeling agencies that said there is no market for models with Down syndrome. My parents and I don't give up."

Fashion Rule Breakers is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Each month, we profile a fashion designer, model, organization, or icon who is a fashion rule breaker — someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make a positive difference.

Chelsea Werner, a champion gymnast-turned-model, is on a mission to prove we are all beautiful in our own way. 

Werner who has Down syndrome — one of the most common chromosomal conditions that causes developmental and intellectual delays — recently signed with a fashion agency called We Speak that promotes body positivity and inclusion by casting healthy models from all walks of life who have positive attitudes and unique features. 

After being signed with the agency, Werner hopes to be a fashion rule breaker by representing people those she believes are typically underrepresented and underestimated, particularly people with Down syndrome in both sports and fashion. 

"I don't think people with Down syndrome are represented enough," Werner told A Plus in an email. "The more we are represented, the more people will see how capable we are." 

"I don't think these industries know how much the public loves to see our accomplishments."

Prior to signing with We Speak, Werner won the Special Olympics United States National Championships four times. She's also a two-time defending World Champion. 

"I've been doing gymnastics [for] as long as I can remember," Werner told A Plus. "I feel like it's always been a part of my life. I think gymnastics has trained me to be disciplined and to work hard. In gymnastics, each new skill takes a very long time — sometimes years! I think that it has given me confidence."

With confidence and persistence on her side, it's no wonder Werner didn't give up after being initially turned down by a few fashion agencies. "I went to some modeling agencies that said there is no market for models with Down syndrome.  My parents and I don't give up. There is a market and I'm showing them!"

Eventually, she was discovered by We Speak after the agency saw her on social media. "I saw her viral videos and was immediately captivated by her beautiful bubbly energy," The founder of We Speak, Briauna Mariah, told A Plus. "I saw Chelsea's potential to thrive in this industry and immediately reached out. It's important women feel represented in the industry."

Werner had her first photo shoot in November 2017, and since then, she's shared her work on her own Instagram account ShowTimeWerner.

Her photos have been met with a slew of positive praise from followers: 

"I just think you're so incredible! I absolutely adore following your page and all your words of wisdom! Thank you for being YOU and sharing your talents and beauty with the world," one person commented on a photo.

"So glad you shared this today! Keep inspiring people," another wrote.  

When asked what it means to her to be a model, Werner said she hopes it "shows the world that we are all beautiful in our own way." She also said she hopes her photos convey that "all people have dreams and everyone needs to be given the opportunities to reach them!"

As for Mariah, working with Werner and her family has been "absolutely wonderful." 

"Chelsea takes feedback really well and is a quick learner. Right now we're building her experience in front of the camera, building her portfolio and brand. The next step is to have her out in NYC during Fall/Winter '18 fashion week. We're in the process of setting up a few interviews, meetings, and castings for her time in NYC."

"Soon, I believe the industry will be just as captivated by Chelsea's beauty as I am. I see her going far."

Werner said that when others see her in gymnastics or modeling, it can help them realize that "they are capable of doing things maybe they didn't think they could do.  I hear from parents a lot that I give them hope for their children with disabilities." 

Werner joins other models with Down syndrome working in the fashion industry to promote inclusion. Madeline Stuart, for example, walked in New York Fashion Week and launched her own clothing line, 21 Reasons Why, a nod to her 21st chromosome. We hope that Stuart, Werner, and others continue paving the way for people of varying abilities, and backgrounds to have a welcomed space in the fashion industry. We can't wait to see what they accomplish next.

Check out more of Werner's modeling work in the photos below:

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