‘Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. Show them what you can do.’
by CHANDLER JONES and REBECCA WALDEN
Redefining the expectations of those around her is nothing new to Ashley DeRamus.
The 31-year-old Hoover, Ala., resident has Down syndrome but refuses to be defined by it, and in the summer of 2013 added “clothing line entrepreneur” to her résumé.
For DeRamus, this feat is the culmination of years of personal advocacy on behalf of people with Down syndrome. Her work has taken her to the United Nations and on the sea to Nova Scotia. She was set to make a presentation in front of 2,500 people at the National Down Syndrome Congress national convention in Indianapolis in mid July.
- Ashley DeRamus introduces her new line of Down Time T’s. Self-esteem is a cornerstone of Ashley’s work and the lynchpin in her desire to design clothing for people with Down syndrome. Photo by Gary Kannegiesser
- A beaming Ashley shows off her knit burgundy sweater and black and white herringbone scarf. Photo by Ryan Sartowski
- The natural beauty of Bryce Canyon in Utah serves as a backdrop for Ashley DeRamus’ smart and cozy winter coat trimmed in faux fur. Photo by Ryan Sartowski
- Ashley DeRamus and her mother, Connie, review final fitting details before an event in Los Angeles. Photo by Gary Kannegiesser
“We are working to raise awareness of what Down Syndrome people are capable of doing and emphasize their abilities and not their limitations,” said Ashley’s mother, Connie DeRamus.
Self-esteem is a cornerstone of Ashley’s work and the lynchpin in her desire to design clothing for people with the Down syndrome figure. Connie said existing clothing lines often amount to little more than elastic-waist pants and baggy shirts.
Clothing that fits
“It is extremely difficult to find clothing that fits,” Connie said. “If they want to look stylish, which Ashley is all about, you have to buy the clothes and then have them altered, and you end up paying so much more.”
With the support of her parents, Connie and Miller, and the marketing savvy of her manager, Gary Kannegiesser, Ashley instroduced Ashley by Design apparel at the 2013 National Down Syndrome Congress in Denver.
“I’ve been watching a lot of fashion shows like, ‘What Not to Wear,’” Ashley said. “When I watch those shows, I ask how I could have something like that for Down syndrome.”
For her part, Ashley picked out designs and selected fabrics and color swatches. But most thrilling for Ashley was the modeling portion of the production cycle. In preparation for the launch, Ashley worked with stylists and models for print materials — typical parts of introducing a clothing line.
While the clothing is sold online, DeRamus will also promote it to more than 2,500 attendees of the National Down Syndrome Congress in Indianapolis in July 2014. Last year, conference organizers tapped DeRamus to host a makeup and skin care seminar and a fashion show of the clothing line.
In Alabama, Ashley has made waves as well, both figuratively and literally. She boasts 43 com-petitive medals from Special Olympics swimming. In addition to her Special Olympics activities, she is a devoted volunteer at The Bell.
“The moms at the Bell Center and at events around the country have hope now that they might not have had otherwise,” said Connie.
“They tell me how encouraging it is to see the potential that their jobs as parents have, and that given the right opportunities, their babies can experience a higher quality of life. There is just certain camaraderie between us mothers who see Ashley and see potential for their Down syndrome children. She’s giving hope.”
Ashley’s determination, intelligence and growing reputation have made her a force in Down syndrome awareness. Her active advocacy has attracted followers and fans from across the globe.
Ashley now travels the country with her “mobile boutique and often leads the Pledge of Allegiance and sings the National Anthem to open festivities. She sells her fashions at gospel, bluegrass and other festivals, while sharing her story and giving encouragement to the people she meets. At the same time, she raises money for Down syndrome and special needs.
In May 2013, Ashley spoke by invitation to the United Nations as part of its “Empowerment in Achieving Poverty Eradication, Full Employment and Decent Work for All” theme.
Her speeches revolve around employment and equality for people with Down syndrome, expounding on her motto, “Don’t let people tell you what you can’t do. Show them what you can do.”
Reprinted with permission of The Hoover Sun.