Pulling former sex workers out of the shadows

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By Nicole Schmidt

Off of the streets and onto the runway, former sex workers proudly model garments custom designed by Ryerson fashion students to reflect their lives, and their stories.

“People need to understand that everyone has a different story,” said Veronica Szeto, a second year fashion design student who created a piece for one of the models. “Some people are just dealt a tougher hand than others.”

The fashion show, Out of the Shadows, sheds a light on the harsh realities that these women have faced in the past and optimistically looks towards a brighter future. Their experiences are embodied through creative expression and clothing.

Fashion students enrolled in a lower liberal studies class called Special Topics were eligible to partake in the event. Each of the nine participating students was paired up with a Toronto sex-worker, who they met with one a week over the duration of three months. By getting to know their partners, the students were able to gain new perspective on a reality that seems foreign to most people.

Szeto says that when she first heard about the opportunity, she was excited to meet her partner, but had no idea what to expect.

“When we first met, I was shocked,” said Szeto. “She was so happy and friendly, she seemed like someone I would have met in university and been friends with.”

Throughout the project, students worked in collaboration with their partners, designing a custom garment that would later be modeled by the sex workers in the fashion show on March 8. The designs were a reflection of the woman’s life and her experiences.

Szeto designed a short, white backless dress paired with a black cape for her 22-year-old partner, who used to work the streets, but is no longer involved with that type of lifestyle.

“The black cape represents the dark times in her life when she was doing the whole sex trade thing. As she walked down the runway, she took off the cape to reveal her white dress underneath, which represents a new life and a new beginning for her,” said Szeto.

After the show, each model got to take home her garment.

For Szeto, the entire experience was more than just a design project, it was an opportunity to build a relationship and learn a valuable lesson.

“I was really amazed by her story. She told me that sometimes, things happen, and you’ve just got to keep moving forward,” said Szeto. “Hearing that from someone who’s been through what she’s been through has made me more positive and taught me to be grateful for the life I have.”




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