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Horse racing enthusiast on track to remove disability barriers and prove one size doesn’t fit all

22/02/2022. By Carmelle Wilkinson. 15 min read.

Small business owner, blogger and fashionista Amy Evans is on a mission to breakdown disability stereotypes.

Growing up, Amy Evans’ (BA Commerce, 2021) disability didn’t stop her from dreaming and achieving big things.

While she needed a wheelchair to navigate the school playground, she wasn’t overly conscious of her physical limitations.

Like many young girls, she loved horses and dressing up, but it wasn’t until she got older that her interest in horse racing and fashion really took off.

“I was lucky enough to have family and friends growing up that didn’t think anything of my disability, and I guess all of these factors are why I’m so positive and confident. My parents have been my biggest supporters,’’ she said.

“Unfortunately, however, there are people that view a person with a disability differently and as I got older, I wanted to use my social media knowledge and degree at Curtin to help breakdown that misconception.”

When Amy and her non-identical twin sister Rebecca Evans were 18 months old, they were diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder known as Nemaline Myopathy (NM), which causes muscle weakness.

Amy’s condition is considered moderate, with her limb, trunk and facial muscles affected the most, which has led to scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and speech difficulties.

“One thing that NM absolutely doesn’t affect is my brain and intelligence. Too often abled-bodied people assume that just because I’m in a wheelchair I have the intellectual capacity of a 5-year-old. This is 100% not true,’’ she said.

“Rebecca and I both graduated from Curtin last year, me with a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in marketing and advertising with distinction and my sister a Bachelor of Psychology with First Class Honours.”

Amy said some might say her parents didn’t win the genetic lottery. Both carriers of the recessive NEB gene (a gene that causes NM), there was only a 25 per cent chance they would pass on the defective gene to their children.

With roughly 35 cases of NM in Australia, Amy and Rebecca make up two of the five cases in WA.

Amy (pictured right) says her family are her greatest strength in life. Here she is pictured with her twin sister Rebecca, Mum Catherine and Dad Rod.

Now 24, Amy is on a mission to challenge disabled stereotypes one frock at a time.

The founder of Perth-based digital marketing company Little Black Dress Digital, Amy is also a racing enthusiast and a familiar face at Ascot Racecourse, where she is slaying race day in her glamorous fashions – courtesy of her talented Mum, Catherine.

Like many generation Zs, Amy enjoys spending time on her phone and uses social media to connect with others. So, it was only fitting that when she started attending the races, she used her Instagram account @amy_c_evans to document her social life and outfits.

Amy says if you’re feeling good in an outfit and know that it looks sensational, you don’t need anyone to tell you otherwise.

With over 9000 followers and counting, Amy has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from so many strangers.

“I’ve actually had a few people come up to me at the races and ask to take their picture with me because they’ve recognised me from Instagram. It’s nice to see my social media presence grow as it reminds me that I’m achieving my mission of breaking down disability barriers and stereotypes,’’ she said.

“At the core, I not only wanted to share my life and fashion on social media but try to breakdown the stereotypes of what it’s like to have a rare physical disability.

“Increasing diversity is so important in any industry, but even more so in fashion, where a disabled person might not be seen as stylish or fashionable. Social media is a powerful platform when it comes to reaching others and advocating for those with a disability.”

Sadly, Amy said people with disabilities are often judged by their looks.

“I use an electric wheelchair to get around (bright purple to match my fun personality) and a rather sexy “elephant” tube to breathe (otherwise known as my ventilator),’’ she said.

“While I’m generally an optimistic person who loves a good laugh and don’t take myself too seriously, I feel it’s important to change people’s misconceptions about those with a disability, as those who know better do better.”

Amy said while her ventilator might not be her favourite fashion accessory, her motto is ‘breathing is always better”.

When Amy started attending the races, she found picking a winning horse an easier task than finding an outfit for race day.

“Part of the fun of going to the races is dressing up, but because of my body shape and the fact that I’m always sitting, I struggled to find high end fashion items off the rack that were suitable,’’ she said.

“Thankfully my Mum can sew, so she went from altering my race day outfits to making them from scratch.

“Physical disabilities are a rare thing in fashion, but for a competition like Fashions on the Field, it’s basically unheard of, which is why I decided to enter. I wanted to change people’s opinion about those with a disability and prove that we can be fashionable too.”

“My greatest moments are being in the 2020 WA Fashions on the Field final, placing in the top 10 last year for WA in Myer Fashions on your Front Lawn and being mentioned in Vogue in their Myer Fashions on your Front Lawn article.”

A poignant moment at last year’s Fashions on the Field in York, saw Amy take out first place.

“Dad also did me proud by placing third in the mixed Fashions on the Field, so I guess you can say it’s a family event now,’’ she said.

Amy and her Dad Rod at last year’s Fashions on the Field in York.

For Amy, race day fashion was so much more than pretty frocks and fascinators. It was a celebration of your personality and an opportunity to express yourself.

And for Amy that means – lace, full skirts and boaters.

Amy’s favourite race day accessory is a big, bold and beautiful boater.

“Thankfully Mum and I have similar taste in fashion, so most of my dresses are modern classic, but then I like to give them an edgy twist. I like to think of my style as classy, but there is an element of fun too,’’ she said.

“For me, dressing up is an opportunity to show who I am. Yes, I’m disabled, but my disability is only a small part of who I am.”

Amy’s love for horses, racing and fashion is journaled in her light-hearted and humorous blog The Velvet Court.

Amy said her obsession with horses started young. She’s now co-owner of a racehorse and has shares in several others.

“None of my family are racing fans, so I’m not sure where the obsession came from, though I was always a horsey girl growing up. We all had a small interest in the Melbourne Cup every year, but then so does the rest of Australia,’’ she said.

“To this day, the excitement I get on race day is simply electric – there’s no greater feeling than cheering your horse to victory from the sidelines.

The marketing graduate said she’s been blown away by the wave of support and encouragement from total strangers.

“While it’s both humbling and exciting to see my followings increase, at the end of the day I don’t do it for the likes. I post because I enjoy consuming fashion content, so why not produce it too. Being in the digital space, it’s important that I have a presence as well. At the end of the day, I post things that I find entertaining, educational, or just fun; content that I enjoy creating and consuming.’’ she said.

Her inner spark and strong interest in digital media led Amy to change career direction in 2017.

Amy is the owner and founder of Little Black Dress Digital.

After completing her Certificate IV in Residential Building Drafting in TAFE, Amy enrolled at Curtin to study Commerce, where she graduated last year, majoring in marketing and advertising.

“I didn’t consider marketing and advertising until I attended Curtin’s Open Day. I sat in on the advertising talk and found the creativity and strategic thinking behind marketing and advertising so fascinating. Some may say COVID affected their studies negatively, but for me it’s when I discovered the career path, I’m on today. It was while studying online and interning remotely that I discovered the benefits of working for myself.

“Thanks to my degree and personal social media growth I was able to launch Little Black Dress Digital, which offers social media, emails/newsletters and website services. The name is a nod to my love of fashion. A little black dress is something that every woman needs in her wardrobe too and in a sense, every business needs to have a digital presence these days. So, it represents that staple element as well.”

While the road to success hasn’t always been smooth, Amy encouraged others to take a leap of faith and believe in themselves.

“Starting a business isn’t easy and you’re probably going to be working more hours than a 9-5 job, especially when you’re starting out. However, once the business starts to find its groove though, it will be totally worth it.

“Just make sure you surround yourself with people who want to see you grow and those who are happy to offer advice anytime.”

Amy speaks up for diversity on Curtin FM. She said media interviews were a wonderful opportunity to breakdown disability barriers.

While Amy is no stranger to the catwalk or camera now, she’s the first to say that it’s more than just posting pictures.

“It would be great to be seen as a role model though. I hope I can show other young girls that they can be themselves and try anything, and I hope my account provides a safe space for them to be inspired. Some influencers I’ve met online have been my biggest supporters and I want to be that for younger girls,’’ she said.

“In life people are going to judge you, even be jealous and say nasty things, but that’s just a reflection on them and not you.”

The fashionista, blogger and horse racing enthusiast hopes to be a role model to young girls and those with a disability.

So, what’s next for this fashionable influencer?

“Haha I’ve always thought of myself as more of a content creator, but I guess I am an influencer, just not your traditional type,’’ she said.

“A dream of mine is to be on the cover of Vogue. To represent people with disabilities in the fashion industry would be amazing.

“But in the meantime, there is always another race day competition to look forward to and Mum and I have already started brainstorming ideas for my next Fashions on the Field ensemble.”

___

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