Angela Strauss and Ashley Merriman

All year long, the Little Rock social calendar is filled with fundraisers benefiting any number of nonprofits to which the city is lucky enough to play host. But there’s one event that welcomes huge crowds, high energy and nonstop smiles year after year.

The Fashion Event is an annual runway show featuring the newest looks modeled by professional models, amateur models and everyone’s favorite models — Easterseals Arkansas clients. The night serves as a fundraiser for and celebration of Easterseals’ work toward providing life-changing services to individuals with special needs and support for their families.

We sat down with Angela Strauss and Ashley Merriman, this year’s co-chairs, to get to the heart of this roof-raising, feel-good event.


What inspired you to get involved with Easterseals and The Fashion Event?

AS: Barbara/Jean, where I work, participated as a store sponsor. When I first started here I volunteered backstage at The Fashion Event with the shop. I loved the excitement and positivity and knew I could contribute to the event.

I volunteered with friends at another Easterseals event, Art & Soul, and eventually the two collided. I initially learned about Easterseals through my coworker Tiffany Robinson and her husband Daniel who inspired me to get involved. I’m sure a lot of people could tell the same story about them.

AM: Seven years ago, my husband and I attended The Fashion Event to see his brother Tripp walk the runway. After watching Tripp and the other Easterseals models, I was in awe. By the end of the night, I was asking how I could get involved.

What makes this event so special?

AS: The Easterseals children and adults take so much pride in the show. They practice months in advance and it is really their time to shine. Also, the camaraderie backstage is really something special to witness. There have been so many times over the past five or so years I’ve been involved where I witnessed how helpful the other models are to the Easterseals kids and how everyone really just wants to see them succeed and, most importantly, have fun.

AM: It’s a celebration! Yes, it’s an event to raise money for the mission of Easterseals, but it is so much more. It’s a night where many showcase their achieved milestones and personal goals. It is seriously the best event!

Do you have a favorite memory from years past?

AM: My favorite memory would have to be from last year’s Fashion Event. Committee members are sometimes asked to recruit extra models for our sponsor stores. We needed another guy, so I asked my husband Eric to help us out. It was completely out of his comfort zone, but Tripp loved sharing some modeling tips (and the stage) with his brother. Seeing my husband and Tripp walk the runway together was a sweet moment.

What do you wish people knew about Easterseals?

AS: I think the breadth of services Easterseals provides surpasses what the average person would expect, and I continue to learn more about them! It’s so important to help Easterseals get the funding they deserve to enhance so many lives. They can help an infant or an adult with so many things to help them succeed in life and live happily and healthy.

AM: Easterseals connects individuals with special needs and disabilities and their families on a level of understanding and support while embracing each one of them.

What’s something about Easterseals you think would surprise most people?

AM: Easterseals Arkansas is celebrating 75 years of serving children and adults with disabilities. They are equipped to serve individuals for their entire lifetime, from infancy to older adulthood.

What kind of impact have you seen Easterseals make on Arkansans?

AS: The community coming together at The Fashion Event is always something awesome to witness. I really love to support local retail in Little Rock, and it’s amazing to see the stores sponsor the event year after year. It’s not about selling or branding, but being a support to Easterseals and the event. At the end of the day, it’s about seeing the kids and adults in the show have fun and raising money for the cause. I appreciate everyone so much who comes or participates every year.

AM: Perceptions toward disabilities and those with special needs have not always been positive, and I believe that Easterseals Arkansas has been a huge asset in changing that outlook. Through advocacy and education, the positive impact that Easterseals has made on our state is invaluable.

What have you learned in this process that you’ll take with you after the show?

AM: I have been made aware of the overwhelming sense of ownership for Easterseals. Not only with Easterseals staff and families, but within our community. We are all a part of the mission.

Styled by MALINA TABOR | Hair & Makeup by LORI WENGER | Clothing from BARBARA/JEAN | Shot on location at FIDEL & CO. COFFEE

The Fashion Event
March 12, 5:30 p.m.
Statehouse Convention Center