Stomping Out Breast Cancer: Project Pink Models Aim to Bring Awareness to the Runway

Photograph by Faith Blackwell

For those who suffer from breast cancer and the loved ones who stand by their side, the heartbreak and pain from battling the disease becomes a harsh realization of life’s fragility. The Project Pink Fashion show, hosted by Susan G. Komen Central Indiana, seeks to honor those who have fought, with survivors, co-survivors, and Komen supporters sashaying down the runway in custom designed pieces by the students of the Art Institute of Indianapolis. The 10 models who are walking this year all have unique stories and perspectives on their individual experiences with breast cancer.

Nikia Garland was 37 years old when she discovered a lump in her right breast. Though the doctor did not think it was cancer, an ultrasound, mammogram, and two biopsies confirmed Nikia’s worst fears. She says her main coping skill was prayer. “These practices gave me much hope, comfort, and peace. I would often recite Psalm 118:17 to myself, ‘I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the Lord.’” After her diagnosis, she sought to learn more about breast cancer and network with others in similar circumstances. “I found a local support group and I attended one meeting. I also did a lot of reading online, networked at the launch party for Pink 4-Ever, attended the annual survivor’s luncheon sponsored by Community Hospital, participated in the 2016 Race for the Cure for the first time, and served as a 2017 race ambassador for Susan G. Komen. Currently, I am a breast health educator for Komen, as well.”

Fellow Project Pink model, Adrienne Harlow, was misdiagnosed twice, being only 19 years old and a seemingly unlikely candidate for breast cancer. Now an 8-year survivor, Adrienne wants to bring awareness to the disease. “I think my purpose is to show that you must be persistent and be your own advocate… [I want] to share that breast cancer doesn’t discriminate.” She advises to those battling breast cancer right now that it is ok to feel vulnerable and express that. “It’s your own journey and you can experience it however you want.” Adrienne learned even more about herself after her recovery. “I discovered how strong I could really be. My biggest fear is death and I feel like I faced death and was strong enough to overcome it.”

When a friend or family member has breast cancer, it can be difficult to know when to reach out and help. Nikia offered some recommendations. “I would advise the co-survivor to simply be there. Support your loved one through this challenge in their life. Don’t wait for the survivor to ask for what they need because, oftentimes, they won’t ask or can’t pinpoint exactly what’s needed. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and go from there. Practical things such as childcare, offering to help do cleaning, providing meals or transportation, sending cards and other treats in the mail are appreciated and meaningful gestures that help provide strength for the battle.”

In terms of how Nikia is prepping for Project Pink, she explains, “I have been practicing my walk a couple of times a week so that I will have it perfected for the show. I have also been trying to find shoes for each outfit I will be modeling.” A fitting remark since she says the one thing in her closet that she can’t live without is her heels. Adrienne gets her hair styled preshow. “My trademark is my pink hair.” Plus, a little vino puts extra strut in her step come showtime. “I listen to the song that I will be walking down the runway to, and before we actually walk the runway, I drink a few glasses of wine.”

The Art Institute students who have created the looks for the show had consulted with the models before starting on the garments. “The designers get the preferences from the survivors and design within those parameters. It really is a collaborative effort.” says Gary Stephens, Coordinator of Fashion Programs at AI, who has been involved with Project Pink since its inception six years ago. “The whole design process took a couple of months from the ideation or conceptualization to the actual creation of the garments and the fashion show. The really cool part of the process is at the model fitting. This is more like an unveiling— the models get to see what the designers have created for them.”

The Project Pink Fashion Show will be taking place this Wednesday, August 30th at the Regions Tower Rooftop. Nikia, Adrienne, and the other eight models will also be competing in a fundraising competition leading up to the event. The model who collects the most donations will be presented with the 2017 Trendsetter Award. Proceeds from the event will go towards Komen Central Indiana and their mission to save lives and meet critical needs for Hoosiers affected by breast cancer.

To purchase tickets to the event, click here.

We stopped by a recent fitting to catch all the action. Photography by Faith Blackwell.

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