All you could see at the Not My Eyes’ benefit fashion show and luncheon, recently held at VFW Hall in Valley Stream, N.Y., were beautiful people, some of whom couldn’t see at all! It was legally blind model Annalee Smith’s first event, and the affair was a sold-out, tremendous success!

A graduate of Long Island University, Annalee Smith’s goal is to showcase the number of visually impaired people in the modeling industry and highlight the need for their inclusion. The Not My Eyes fashion show benefitted the Foundation Fighting Blindness and its efforts to defeat retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited and degenerative disease of the retina. This show featured all visually impaired participants.

The mission of the Foundation Fighting Blindness (www.fightingblindness.org) is to fund research for the prevention, treatment and cures for the entire spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa and more. “I wanted to bring light to the world, that people who are visually impaired or blind are capable of achieving many things in life,” said Smith.

Her love for fashion began as a child. She was born in Barbados, and when she was 9 years old, her family moved to the U.S. Though diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 13, she never lost sight of her love for fashion and dream to become a full-figure model. “I loved to dress up and be the focus of the camera. It’s my passion,” she smiled.

Smith won the 2021 Miss Kurvacious competition, and currently represents the local clothing store. They showed several sportswear pieces in the show, featuring 16 models.

Overall, looks were elegant. An escort accompanied most models, while others simply walked the runway with their canes. In addition to Kurvacious’ offerings, there were selections of day and eveningwear from plus-size retailer Ashley Stewart. Well-made fashions by Black-owned designer labels including Thick Girls Fly, Robert Knight and Legendary LLC were in the show. As each of the sophisticated models appeared, the audience applauded and screamed their names. They strutted up and down the runway in smartly styled looks to the beat of the music. Heels were high. Skirts flared and jumpsuits flowed gracefully. Carmen Hatchett and Tiffani Scott were the fashion commentators, singer Tapeunga Hatchett’s acapella rendition of “Rise Up” was exceptional, and Angel Bordo also provided a comedy set as part of the day’s affair.

“The pathway to modeling is extremely challenging for the visually impaired,” acknowledged Smith. “It’s almost 20 years since partially blind model Amanda Swaffor was a finalist on Tyra Banks’ ‘America’s Next Top Model.’ Blind people buy clothes, too,” stated Smith.

For blind models, there are many steps to consider. Having a plan for the visually impaired fashion show is key. The models must wear clothes that help to avoid tripping. For models with low vision, sufficient lighting is important. It’s also essential to have a runway that is accommodating to visually impaired models.

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