Fashion — New Products and Events

Circa 2005

Leslie Smith, a war survivor and below-knee amputee, serves as the senior communications specialist for the United Service Organizations (USO). Two years ago, Smith developed a blood clot in her left leg at the end of a six-month Army National Guard deployment to Bosnia, and after a severe allergic reaction to medication to treat the clot, her leg was amputated below the knee.

Following her amputation, Smith struggled to maintain her identity as both a woman and an achiever. Like most women, Smith is fashion-conscious and did not want to give up a mainstay of femininity—great shoes—due to losing her leg. Just as important as her rehabilitation was the choice of a prosthetic leg and foot that would allow her to continue to wear high-heeled shoes. “Before my amputation, high-heeled shoes were always a part of my wardrobe,” Smith said. “In fact, that was my main concern when being fitted for my prosthetics.”

In early summer 2004, the 35-year-old Smith saw an advertisement calling for amputees to be runway models for the Runway Fashion Show, part of the 2004 Annual Educational Conference & Exposition of the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA). “When I saw the ad I was ecstatic, and I responded immediately,” Smith exclaimed. “This was a perfect opportunity to prove to myself that I’m still the same person I was before the amputation.”

The Runway Fashion Show was presented by California-based Freedom Innovations, designer and manufacturer of advanced-technology, carbon-fiber prosthetic feet. The first fashion show in ACA history, it featured lower- and upper-limb amputees from around the country, including Smith, who took the stage in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Wild Horse Saloon in front of 500 audience members. The event emerged as one of the most talked-about attractions of the convention. “According to the feedback we have received, the show was an extraordinary success in every aspect,” said Richard Myers, Freedom Innovations’ president and chief operating officer and member of the ACA board of directors.

Smith was one of 18 amputees who took a turn on the catwalk, wearing clothing and accessories provided exclusively by Nashville-based Goody’s Family Clothing. The models represented amputees from every walk of life—Kelly McGuire, a family therapist from California; Jim Haag, a Tennessee truck driver and weekend motorcyclist; John Vacca, a U.S. Army veteran from New York who plays washboard in a band; and Kylee Haddad, an accountant and mother of five from Maryland.

Ron Harding, a bilateral above-knee amputee who lost his legs over 20 years ago in a trucking accident, modeled golf attire in the show. Since his amputation, Harding has dedicated himself to motivating amputees to make the most of their lives. “Something like the fashion show goes a long way toward fulfilling the physical and emotional needs of amputees,” he stated.

“I cannot tell you what the Runway Fashion Show did for my spirits,” added Smith. “Before the fashion show, I was very self-conscious and I kept my prosthetic leg hidden behind long clothes. Now, I wear short skirts and dresses and refuse to hide that I am an amputee.”

check this out


The Amputee Coalition of America is not the only seeker of models with disabilities. DISCOVERY THROUGH DESIGN is an organization founded by fashion model Wendy Crawford, whose career was cut short when a drunk driver rear-ended her car, leaving her with quadriplegia. Now DISCOVERY THROUGH DESIGN is launching a nationwide search for women who use wheelchairs to be roll models in a collaboration with top fashion designers Nicole Miller, Dana Buchman and Lilly Pulitzer. These artists will partner with wheelchair manufacturer Quickie Inc. of Sunrise Medical to design wheelchairs for the three winners, and these one-of-akind wheelchairs will be unveiled at a fashion show in New York City.

Explaining the inspiration for the contest, Crawford stated, “Women in wheelchairs have been overlooked too long. There are paralyzed women all over the world who are not just surviving, but thriving—women who are making contributions to the world and showing us what it truly means to be a roll model.”

No longer able to walk down runways, Crawford has redirected her energy into raising awareness about the perils of drunk driving and raising funds for spinal cord injury research and programs, especially those addressing the often-overlooked needs of women (such as accessible mammogram machines, adequate reproductive health care services and domestic violence interventions).

Dana Reeve, wife of the late actor Christopher Reeve, states, “DISCOVERY THROUGH DESIGN’s unique program is a wonderful conduit to raise awareness and much-needed funds for paralyzed women’s initiatives and spinal cord injury research. It is a remarkable way to celebrate beauty, style and the extraordinary resilience of women in wheelchairs.”


Keeping Pace Inc., founded by Lori Watson, the parent of a child with a disability, has developed the first fashionable and durable shoes for children who need braces to support their legs and feet; the shoes fit easily and quickly over braces without being oversized.

“I was amazed that the shoes available would always be out of date and never took into account the latest fashions for these children,” said Watson. “We know how difficult it is to find special shoes that are contemporary, need little if any adjustment and are easily available and affordable.”

In developing the Advanced Children’s Footwear line, Watson brought together a team of other parents of children with disabilities, top designers and orthotists (specialists in orthopedic appliances and their clinical use) and specialty footwear manufacturer Soletech Inc. The team worked for 18 months to create an athletic shoe, the first of many styles culminating from the team’s vision.

The Keeping Pace shoes incorporate many essential features: contemporary fashion and stylish look; internal engineering with adjustable depth technology; wider heel and toe box to accommodate orthopedic appliances without compromise; a distinctive sole with increased surface contact for greater medial/lateral stability; ankle-to-toe speed lacing with locking eyelets for faster lacing; design using geometrically-graded foot molds for more precise fit; and fray-resistant lining and abrasion-resistant toe cap for better durability.

check this out

Keeping Pace Inc. has offices in Gloucester and Salem, Massachusetts. Advance Children’s Footwear is distributed through orthotists and specialty footwear shoe stores and directly through the Keeping Pace website. In conjunction with its strategic partner Soletech, Keeping Pace plans to continue to expand its children’s footwear line.

The company also plans to use its website as a venue where parents of children with disabilities can share and obtain information. Keeping Pace is donating a portion of its profits to create a foundation that will provide grants for research into the many aspects of cerebral palsy and other childhood disabilities.

Amputee Coalition of America

sharing is caring

we did our part - now do yours and share

like a good neighbor, share

Related Articles: