Ohio Fashion Week showcases local talent and inclusiveness

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WILLOUGHBY, Ohio- We are just a few weeks away from Ohio Fashion Week, a time when local designers and models get to show off their talent on the runway.

But this event is proving to be different from all others. It’s making sure all models feel welcome, no matter your age, appearance or ability.

Cleveland history is rich in fashion. We used to be one of the biggest hubs for textile design in the world. Now, fashion is coming back, and it’s all inclusive.

A big reason why the fashion industry here is booming is because of a woman named Jackie Bertolette. Bertolette, of Willoughby, has always been tall and thin. She said growing up nothing in the store would fit her so when she was just 14 years old she learned to sew and began making her own clothes.

“There are times when fabric will inspire me and times when I’ll dream it up and start drawing it,” Bertolette said. “It comes to me on a wing and a prayer and I begin to sketch it.”

Flash forward to today and Bertolette has her own clothing line, RJ Luna, and is the editor and founder of Haute Ohio Magazine, a quarterly online magazine that allows for all fashion industry talent to showcase their work. It features everything from models and designers to textile artists, photographers, make-up artists and wardrobe stylists.

Bertolette also founded Ohio Fashion Week. Every September they host an event called the Upper Echelon runway event. It’s a black tie affair and flagship gala that gives local designers a chance to shine.

“A lot of local people cannot afford to go to New York Fashion Week because it’s quite expensive,” Bertolette said. “This gives you a local opportunity to get started and it also gives you a resume builder.”

Ohio Fashion Week is a big week for the designers, but it’s also huge for the models. Especially the models who are proving nothing will hold them back.

“I wanted to be a model because it’s so fun,” Olivia DePiore said. “I want to learn new things about modeling.”

Olivia DePiore, 22, of Twinsburg, has down syndrome and is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with leukemia at just 6 years old and went through years of chemotherapy.

But that’s just a small part of her story. This super model is now taking the fashion industry by storm. She holds the title of Miss Amazing Jr. Miss, and has modeled in Miami and New York. She will soon be heading to Paris.

"She has talent, she has personality and she has heart,” Olivia’s mother, Vicky DePiore, said. “And that's what it takes in this industry."

Olivia will be walking in Ohio Fashion Week, which is the first 100 percent inclusive showcase in Ohio. They accept all models, from beginner to seasoned, and petite to plus size.

“The beautiful thing about the Midwest fashion industry is it’s much more inclusive than the international industry,” Bertolette said. “You don’t have to be size zero and 5 foot 8, you can be any size, any gender, it doesn’t matter.”

The DePiore family said they hope this all-inclusive modeling idea will spread throughout the industry.

“If you look at Olivia, she’s much more like us than different from us,” Vicky DePiore said. “So we ask that you give people a chance and that you share that kindness she has for everybody. You give one individual an opportunity that maybe you didn’t give yesterday. Have kind thoughts in your heart and your mind."

Olivia is not only big in the fashion world, but she’s also devoted to the fight against cancer. She has already raised more than $100,000 for cancer research.

So what’s next for this glamour gal? Clearly anything she sets her mind to.

“I’m going to be confident and brave, and be anything I want to be,” Olivia said. “I’m going to make my dreams come true and follow my heart!”

You can watch Olivia walk in the Ohio Fashion Week Upper Echelon runway event on Saturday, Sept. 21. The event is being held at 7:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Cleveland North East in Mentor. Local celebrities will also be walking in the event as well as two alumni from America’s Next Top Model. Tickets for general admission are $35 and you can purchase them at the website www.hauteohio.com.

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