The Easterseals Fashion Effect

It’s exactly the kind of thing nonprofits want to see: newcomers falling in love with the mission and longtime supporters staying involved over the years. And that’s exactly the duo Easterseals Arkansas has in Jenn Cook and Emily Young, co-chairs of this year’s Fashion Event.

The event is famous in Little Rock, a citywide favorite where attendees cheer on Easterseals clients as they hit the runway in the latest looks from local boutiques with big energy and bigger smiles.

But first, Soirée got our own taste of glam with Cook and Young as we chatted about Easterseals’ mission, how they got involved and the fashionable night in question.

How did you first get involved with Easterseals, and what drew you to the Event?

JC: I have been very familiar with Easterseals since I was little. My stepmother, Paige James, was the development officer at Easterseals about 30 years ago when I was in elementary school. Fast forward to today, I am in a networking group with Kathryn Norton, the current development officer. In 2022, I joined the Easterseals Art & Soul committee and the Fashion Event committee last year. I had never been to Fashion Event, and it was just a hands-down incredible feeling to be able to experience the joy and determination of the Easterseals models. 

EY: I was part of the group that started this fabulous event back in 2008, and I chaired it the first three years. Back then, I co-owned a boutique called Faux Pas with my stepmom in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center. The Fashion Event started as an event for the PRTC shops and businesses, and for the first two years, it was held in a tent in the parking lot. The first year, we had a very limited budget and relied on a few donations and even prepared food ourselves. The second year, we gained more sponsors and added catering, a band and a silent auction, and the attendance grew significantly. By the third year, we gained a lot more recognition, sponsors and an increased budget. We moved it indoors to the Chenal Country Club. Being asked to be a co-chair 16 years after the first event is definitely a full-circle moment.

How long have you been attending the event, and do you have any favorite memories?

JC: This will be my second year attending the event. The best memories I have from last year were seeing the Easterseals models.

EY: After being involved in every part of this event the first three years, I stepped back and let other creative minds take over. The event continued to gain momentum, growing out of Chenal CC and moving to larger venues. I have attended several times since that year in the parking lot, and a part of it will always feel like my “baby.” Watching it grow in size and popularity has been such a warming feeling. I have so many favorite memories, but the most amazing and memorable part of all the shows has and always will be watching the looks on the Easterseals clients’ faces as they proudly strut down the runway. The crowd goes wild, and the applause and energy go through the roof.

For someone who’s never been, how would you describe the unique atmosphere?

JC: Anything that is done, donated or raised is 100% for Easterseals clients. To hear and see their stories is a reminder of resilience and perseverance. The feeling you have when leaving Fashion Event is euphoric — it’s very moving. It is the ultimate feel-good and fun event. Everyone should come to see these incredible Easterseals models and see the difference you can make in their lives by supporting them. It truly is an organization everyone can get behind.

EY: It is an event that will definitely touch your heart and strengthen your resolve to help raise support for Easterseals Arkansas. 

In all the bustle of backstage prep, what do you wish the audience could see that doesn’t take place on the catwalk?

JC: How selflessly and tirelessly the committee members and the Easterseals staff work toward these events. Most of this event is put on by Easterseals volunteers and planning takes place after hours. It is a fun way to give back and donate your time to an incredible group of people and a great cause.

EY: The hard work of the volunteers that keep the backstage area organized and running smoothly. Also, the look on the Easterseals clients’ faces after they are dressed and ready to walk the runway.

What element of Easterseals do you think deserves more attention?

JC: That one of the biggest goals Easterseals has is not only to help clients live a full life, but an independent life, whatever that might look like for them. Maybe it’s living outside of their family home, creating art, going to school or helping them find a job. Easterseals provides a support system for both the families and individuals they serve, and their goal is to empower those with disabilities and their families. Simple things you and I might take for granted are a big win for many clients and their families.

EY: Easterseals provides services to people of all ages. From birth through adulthood, they offer programs to help those with disabilities reach their highest level of independence. One hundred percent of the dollars received through fundraising remains in Arkansas.

Unlike other runway shows, the fashion isn’t actually the star of this event, despite still showcasing some of the season’s latest looks. When you’re shopping locally, what are some of your go-to stores for different occasions?

JC: I am not a huge shopper, but when I’m on the hunt for something specific, my favorites around town are Pout, Athleta, Dillards, The Toggery and Kristin Todd. Each of these stores fulfills a specific need and we are lucky to have them here — and a couple have donated their time and product to this event, which is greatly appreciated. 

EY: I love shopping at all the local boutiques. It is hard to pick just one.

Click here for details on all the spring accessories featured in this story.

Fashion Event
April 2, 5:30 p.m. | Statehouse Convention Center



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