Ready to wear

Ayla, 9, in an outfit she helped design with fashion student Kaylyn MacKenzie. -
Ayla, 9, in an outfit she helped design with fashion student Kaylyn MacKenzie.
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On the catwalk last week at River Rock Show Theatre, the fashions of 37 emerging designers took the stage.

And from somewhere in the hushed audience, a young girl from Surrey was keeping her eyes peeled for the work of Kaylyn MacKenzie, who created a line of apparel designed for women who use wheelchairs.

Modeling the clothes were Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Stephanie Cadieux, Kirsten Sharp and Theri Thorson, an ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation – each taking a turn at The Show, an April 24 event consisting of three runway shows of work by graduating students from Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s fashion program.

Ayla, 9, has a rare form of muscular dystrophy, and uses a motorized wheelchair to get around.

Bright and creative, and a bit shy until she opens up, Ayla is interested in fashion, and likes to draw.

“Because she can’t do a lot of physical things, she concentrates on activities that use fine motor skills, such as drawing and crafts,” says her mom, Tiffany Klyn.

Klyn, an RN, is eager for her daughter to meet positive role models – especially women who are living up to their full potential. But no one could have guessed that she’d be taken under the wing of an up-and-coming fashion designer – much less hang out at a fashion shoot.

It took a serendipitous meeting to set the story into play.

Ayla, a Sunnyside Elementary student, happened to meet Cadieux at  her school’s grand opening. “I had gone up to her afterwards and said, I’m a huge proponent of strong women and you’d be somebody I’d love to meet my daughter,” Klyn recalls. “Stephanie said, ‘I’d love to.’”

The cabinet minister later invited Ayla to a photo shoot at Kwantlen’s Cloverdale campus in advance of the KPU graduate fashion show.

A week before, Ayla met with the designer at Kwantlen. She showed Ayla some of her designs, and before long, they were collaborating on a rough design of a new outfit.

The completed ensemble, ready for Ayla to wear at the photo shoot, looked nothing like Ayla’s regular uniform – yoga pants or leggings, a T-shirt, and “a hoodie of some kind,” says her mom, adding Cadieux arrived wearing nearly identical clothes, down to the grey hoodie (see photo at left).

“When you’re sitting, you have things digging into your belly all of the time,” Klyn explains. Fabric in slacks can bunch up behind the knees. “Jeans would just be horrible to wear.”

MacKenzie, now in her final year of fashion design at KPU, designs apparel for women aged 25 to 50.

Her experience working with people with disabilities made her realize there was a gap in the apparel industry.

“With so few options for clothing that is up-to-date for those with disability, I decided to make my niche market female wheelchair users,” MacKenzie said.

“Vancouver is very accommodating to those that live with occupational barriers in life yet the only clothing lines available to those with disability are aimed at a mature market.”

According to Cadieux, “Kaylyn really understands the unique challenges in finding clothes that work well and are comfortable when seated and wheeling.”

When you’re nine years old, you just want to fit in with everyone else. That’s not so easy when you’re the only kid in your class who uses a wheelchair, says Ayla’s mom.

Whether it’s wearing a new jacket or joining in at the craft club, “Everything has to be adapted for her. Nothing is ok as it is.”

Ayla is “The girliest of girls,” but finding clothing that works is a never-ending challenge. Trying things on in a cramped change room is usually out of the question.

At the fashion shoot, she was surrounded by three vibrant, accomplished women, each wearing fashions specifically designed to meet their needs, not the other way around.

For once, says her mom, “She didn’t have to make do. She didn’t have to make an able-bodied person’s situation work for her.”

The girl was thrilled at having her hair and makeup done.

Ayla was up for a similar treat at The Show; MacKenzie made her a brand-new outfit, and, even though she wasn’t modeling, Ayla’s hair and make up got the star treatment.

It’s already clear the experience has made a lasting impression, says Klyn.

“Just knowing that somebody, somewhere knows how much it meant to our family, and that Stephanie reached out to us – because that’s the only reason that it happened – it’s a huge deal.”

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