Teen with autism, Down syndrome rocks fashion world

Published: Thursday, Sept. 26 2013 9:30 a.m. MDT

Karrie Brown's junior year started with a photo.

What quickly followed was the trip of a lifetime for this 17-year-old who has Down syndrome and autism — to a modeling gig in California.

Illinois resident Sue Brown, Karrie's mother, posted a picture to Facebook on Aug. 12 of her daughter wearing Wet Seal's line of plus-size clothing, introduced to select store locations on Aug. 30. And the response to her daughter's back-to-school garb started flooding in.

"It was the first day of her junior year," Sue said in an interview with Deseret News. "All the sudden, friends with daughters with Down syndrome sent emails asking where I found clothes that fit her. I told them Wet Seal; that's where I buy all of her clothes. She wants to be a model for them."

Sue and a friend set up a Facebook page for Karrie: Karrie Brown — Modeling the Future.

The Facebook "likes" kept coming, and Wet Seal, the clothing company that boasts trendy clothes for a reasonable price, took notice of Karrie.

"We set up the Facebook page on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., and by noon on Wednesday, I got a message asking to talk about my daughter," Sue said.

The company offered Sue a deal: If Karrie could get 10,000 Facebook likes by that Friday, they would give the teenager a big surprise.

Before noon on Thursday, Karrie's Facebook page had received more than 11,000 likes.

Wet Seal flew Karrie and her mom to a studio in Los Angeles for a photo shoot.

And the company is living up to its mission.

"We use the power of fashion and fun to help our girl express her individuality and fit in — while standing out," according to the Wet Seal website.

Once she was in L.A., Karrie's finesse for modeling came out.

"She was a natural," Sue said. "They asked who taught her all those modeling moves. Nobody did."

Karrie really took off after her request for Justin Bieber tunes to be played was granted.

But it comes as no surprise to her mom, Sue Brown, who says Karrie has been exceeding the expectations of others since she was born.

"When she was born, someone told me that she would only be able to clean tables in a restaurant, and I thought, 'Really? She can't do more than that?'"

While Sue said there is nothing wrong with those jobs, she didn't like the limitations others placed on her child.

And that's the message Sue hopes is conveyed through her daughter's story.

"People should never estimate someone's capabilities based on a diagnoses. A lot of people see she has Down syndrome and automatically make assumptions about what she might be able to do," Sue said.

Sue said she thought life would get back to normal when she and Karrie returned from California. But after what she calls the whirlwind of media coverage, she's glad that Karrie's message is still being shared.

"It's wonderful that (life hasn't gone back to routine)," she said. "It seems like she is inspiring a lot of people."

Because of the success of Karrie's story, Sue is working to create a non-profit organization called Karried Away, which aims to help adults with disabilities find meaningful jobs.

And the future looks bright for Karrie.

"Last night she wanted to be a model again. A couple days before, she wanted to be a librarian."

But for now, Karrie is enjoying having her message shared.

"It's been funny. She's taking it in stride more than I thought she would," Sue said. Typically developing 17-year-olds may have arrogance. But Karrie just grins like, 'Isn't everyone?' She's just taking it in stride."

Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock

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