Down does not mean out: 7 Down syndrome girls shine as models for clothing store

(From left) Miss June Lin, Miss Chen Wan Yi, Miss Theresa Ovinis and Miss Jaspreet Kaur Sekhon.
(From left) Miss June Lin, Miss Chen Wan Yi, Miss Theresa Ovinis and Miss Jaspreet Kaur Sekhon.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - She loves putting together her own outfits and experimenting with different colours.

So it was with glee that Miss June Lin, 32, seized the chance to be a fashion model.

Miss Lin and six other members of the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) (DSA(S)) were given this opportunity by online women’s clothing store MLB.

MLB owner Esther Hong, 28, engaged models from DSA(S) to raise awareness about Down syndrome. Their photos can be seen on MLB’s website.

The models were paid $100 an hour, the same rate Mrs Hong pays her professional models.

Mrs Hong approached DSA(S), which in turn asked its members if they were keen to sign up.

Miss Lin told The New Paper: “I like fashion and clothes. I was very happy and excited to model for MLB.”

While she believes she has become more confident after the experience, her mother, Madam Jean Wang, 62, a tour guide, said her daughter has always been confident.


Madam Wang said: “She didn’t need to be persuaded (to sign up). I think it must be because of her years of dancing.”

At DSA(S), where Miss Lin has been a member since 1999, she does fusion dance and has even performed on stage. She also goes bowling every week as part of the activities at DSA(S).

Miss Lin holds a part-time job doing guest relations at Singapore Cable Car.

Madam Wang believes strongly in empowering her daughter.

She said: “Why send people with Down syndrome and other special needs to school and let them learn life skills if we don’t let them experience things for themselves?”

‘I’ve always wanted to be a model’

Every time she watches America’s Next Top Model, she wonders what it would be like to be a model.

Now, thanks to online store MLB, Miss Chen Wan Yi’s dream has come true.

Miss Chen, 28, told TNP she signed up because she loves watching reality TV shows about fashion and modelling.

She said: “I have always wanted to know what it is like to be a model, and I wanted to take on more challenges.”

With a wide smile, she described the photo shoot, which took place in August, as “awesome”.

“I liked it when they did my hair and make-up and (when I was) trying on the clothes.”

Miss Chen’s mother, Madam Rachel Wong, 60, a housewife and mother of four, said of her eldest daughter: “She has no modelling experience, but once she was in front of the camera, she needed very little direction.

“Giving people with Down syndrome a chance to work really helps boost their self-esteem and self-worth.”

‘I can’t wait to get in front of the camera’

Over the last few weeks, Miss Theresa Ovinis, 22, has been posing and strutting in front of the mirror.

She is anxiously waiting for the day when she can get in front of the camera for the MLB photo shoot, which will take place later this month.

Her older sister, Madam Marie Ovinis, 33, a housewife, told TNP that their mother was initially against the idea of letting Miss Ovinis model.

She said: “Our mum is quite reserved and she felt that there was no need for Theresa to participate.

“But I managed to convince her. I told my mum about the Australian model with Down syndrome and explained to her how it’s a good opportunity for Theresa.”

Madeline Stuart, a Brisbane model with Down syndrome, made her debut at New York Fashion Week last year. Last month, she returned to the runway in New York for the Art Hearts Fashion show.

Madam Ovinis added: “(The MLB photo shoot is) a good opportunity for people with Down syndrome to showcase their talents and show the world that they’re just like us.”

Miss Ovinis told TNP: “I’m looking forward to the modelling and trying on nice clothes and seeing my photos.”

‘Modelling grows my confidence’

She is no stranger to the camera flashes and reflectors of photo shoots, having modelled several times.

So when the opportunity to model for MLB came, Miss Jaspreet Kaur Sekhon accepted it without hesitation.

The 36-year-old told TNP: “I love modelling. Each time I get to model, my confidence grows.”

Miss Kaur, who modelled for womenswear brand Pure Earth several years ago, said the MLB shoot took place at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. Her favourite part was dressing up in different clothes and trying out different poses.

She said: “It was very fun and exciting. It really helped to raise my self-esteem and confidence.”

Miss Kaur, a childcare teacher, believes that it is important to include people with special needs and give them the same opportunities.

She said: “I have seen a change in my friends (the other models). They are more confident now.”


Mrs Esther Hong owns MLB, which sells womenswear ranging from bridesmaids’ dresses and tops to accessories. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

It was a chance to bring greater awareness to people with Down syndrome without focusing on their intellectual disability.

That was why the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) seized the opportunity to have its members featured as models by online clothing store MLB.

Mr Andrew Soh, assistant director of community partnerships and corporate communications at the association, told The New Paper that the collaboration would also help people with Down syndrome build their confidence and self-esteem.

MLB owner Esther Hong, 28, said she collaborated with the association for that very same reason.

Mrs Hong, who works full-time as a business development manager at a maritime consultancy company, told TNP: “Fashion isn’t only about pretty faces. It’s about attitude as well.

“And these girls, they were so happy to do it and weren’t afraid of trying out their own poses. The confidence is inside them.”

Mrs Hong took over the management of MLB early last year. The website, which was started in 2009, sells womenswear such as skirts, rompers and bridesmaids’ dresses, as well as accessories such as necklaces and watches.

Said Mr Soh: “At the end of the day, people with Down syndrome are as capable as me and you. They are just differently abled.”