0613 Ashley Deramus
Ashley DeRamus models items from her new clothing line for people with Down’s syndrome. The line launches this summer.
Redefining the expectations of those around her is nothing new to Ashley DeRamus.
The 30-year-old Hoover resident has Down syndrome but refuses to be defined by it, and she will soon add “clothing line entrepreneur” to her resume.
For DeRamus, this feat is the culmination of years of personal advocacy on behalf of the Down syndrome population. Her work has taken her to the United Nations and on the sea to Nova Scotia, and soon she will speak in front of 2,500 people in Denver.
“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 the Down syndrome figure. Connie said existing clothing lines amount to little more than elastic-waist pants and baggy shirts.
“You can’t buy 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 majorly 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’s by Design apparel is expected to be available this summer.
“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 has been busy picking out designs and selecting fabrics and color swatches. But most thrilling for Ashley is the modeling portion of the production cycle. In preparation for the launch, Ashley will work with stylists and model for print materials – typical parts of introducing a clothing line.
While the clothing will be sold online, DeRamus will also promote it to more than 2,500 attendees of the National Down Syndrome Congress in Denver in July. Conference organizers have already tapped DeRamus to host a hair and makeup seminar, and plans are under way for a fashion show of the clothing line there.
Locally, Ashley is making waves as well, both figuratively and literally. She boasts 43 competitive medals from Special Olympics swimming.
In addition to her Special Olympics activities, she is a devoted volunteer at The Bell Center for Early Intervention, where she handles classroom supplies and light administrative duties. Her service there led to work last summer on the HMS Bounty, on which she traveled from Savannah, Ga., to Nova Scotia. She stopped in New York, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to sell her “Ashley by Design” bracelets and other merchandise to raise money and awareness for those with Down syndrome.
Ashley raised $6,000 for four scholarships for The Bell Center for Early Intervention.
“The moms at the Bell Center 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 high quality of life. There is just a certain camaraderie between we mothers that see Ashley and see potential for other Down syndrome children. She’s giving hope.”
This summer, she will travel to Cleveland aboard the ship Lynx as its Special Needs Mate. The ship features opportunities through its Lynx Education Foundation for Ashley to learn in a hands-on fashion environment. En route to Chicago; Duluth, Minn. and Bay City, Mich., Ashley will be the official hostess, give the morning pledge and serve as the special needs ambassador, according to Kannegiesser.
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.
In May, 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.
Ashley’s speech revolved around employment equality for those with Down syndrome, expounding upon her motto, “Don’t let people tell you what you can’t do, show them what you can do.”