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Young NI models looking to put best foot forward in the fashion world

Rising star Kate and siblings Hailey-Jane and Jackson eyeing return to top catwalk events

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Kate Grant

Kate Grant

Kate Grant

Some of Northern Ireland's youngest models are hoping to continue making waves in the fashion world by strutting their stuff at major catwalk events post-lockdown.

Trailblazer and rising star Kate Grant (22) from Cookstown, who is the first model in Northern Ireland with Down's syndrome, has long refused to let her disability define her.

She first made headlines in 2017 when she worked the catwalk at Belfast Fashion Week, marking the first time a person with Down's syndrome had modelled at the event.

Two years later Kate was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to the community in Cookstown in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

Earlier that same year, she made headlines when it was announced that she had been selected as a brand ambassador for cosmetic giant Benefit.

"I'm really looking forward to continuing with modelling when the pandemic is over. As someone who loves clothes and fashion, I really miss it all so much," Kate told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I've always wanted to be treated the same as everybody else.

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"Nobody is perfect but I want to be able to continue using my voice to fight for equality and change opinions around those like me with Down's syndrome and other disabilities."

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Star power: Paula Reynolds with daughter Hailey-Jane and son Jackson

Star power: Paula Reynolds with daughter Hailey-Jane and son Jackson

Star power: Paula Reynolds with daughter Hailey-Jane and son Jackson

Kate says while lockdown has been important to help save lives, it has been a nightmare too because she has missed out on a lot of opportunities.

"I've been doing some acting classes over Zoom but modelling is still my first love and it's my dream to work with Kim Kardashian West one day."

Her equally determined mum Deirdre (58) added: "I'd like to think that some events will happen again for Kate but there's absolutely nothing in the diary at the moment.

"In terms of commercial modelling, Kate's agency had some events based in London but because of lockdown and her vulnerability she wasn't able to avail of them," Deirdre added.

Paula Reynolds from Ballyhegan in Co Armagh is equally keen to see her kids back on the catwalk as soon as possible.

Last February, just weeks before lockdown, her daughter Hailey-Jane stormed Kids' London Fashion Week.

The seven-year-old and her younger brother Jackson (6), pupil at St Oliver Plunkett's Primary School in Loughgall, Co Armagh, are both signed up to several modelling agencies.

Hailey-Jane walked in the Mini Mode fashion show as part of Global Kids' Fashion Week.

Despite thousands of applicants for the Mini Mode show, Hailey-Jane made it on to the shortlist before waiting five months to find out if she would be walking the runway.

That opened up new opportunities for Hailey-Jane, with Jackson and herself both invited by designers to walk in some of the next season's Paris and New York Fashion Week shows.

Then along came Covid-19, which put those trips on hold.

Paula (32), a mental health support worker, wanted both her children to get into modelling because they love being in front of the camera.

"The kids keep asking me when they'll be allowed to go away on a plane again because we were all so used to travelling a lot in the past," she said.

"The Mini Mode show was the last time they were away and obviously Paris, New York and Milan never happened because we couldn't travel anywhere.

"Those shows were all pushed back until September but then that didn't happen either.

"We're hopeful that New York Fashion Week will go ahead this September instead when the kids will be walking for designer Debbie Holden," she added.

Joining Hailey-Jane and Jackson will be Paula's younger brother, Michael Knipe (14), who has Down's syndrome, and making his catwalk debut.

"It will be the most amazing experience so fingers crossed we'll be back to some sort of normality by then," Paula added.


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