A beachwear company based in Florida featured a 16-year-old model with Down syndrome in its new ad campaign, with the goal of hopefully inspiring other companies and organizations to become more inclusive.
Ethan Holt, 16, of St. Petersburg, modeled for a clothing and souvenir retail chain Surf Style, and is featured front and center in the company’s new digital and social media campaign.
“It’s definitely a mama’s proud moment,” Holt’s mother, Phoy, said.
Phoy said her son loves the water and swims for the Florida Division of the Special Olympics and for his high school’s swim team. He is also on the Special Olympics paddleboard team, so modeling for a beachwear company was the perfect gig.
Surf Style chose Ethan for its new campaign after representatives from the Clearwater-based nonprofit Help Us Gather (HUG) introduced the aspiring model to executives last month. HUG is an organization that works to break down barriers for those living with disabilities.
Surf Style wanted to include Ethan because of his love of the camera, charisma, and to set an example of inclusion.
“We strive to create an atmosphere of inclusion in all of our stores,” Tara Malinasky, marketing manager at Surf Style, said in a statement. “We hope this sets an example for other brands to feature those with disabilities in their marketing efforts, as well,” she said.
The photoshoot took place on July 30 in Clearwater Beach, which is about 45 minutes from Tampa.
According to Surf Style’s blog, Ethan said he is now “ready to be a model.”
Robin Lally, a founder of HUG, said the nonprofit had been working for months to help Holt jumpstart his modeling career, but at first, local talent agents told her there “isn’t a market” for models who live with a disability.
Citing a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HUG said one in four adults in the U.S. lives with a form of disability, “but advertising campaigns rarely include people with disabilities.”
HUG believes awareness of people with disabilities can be achieved through marketing and advertising campaigns like the one Holt stars in.
“Surf Style’s decision to feature Holt is big step toward a future where people of all abilities feel included and represented,” Lally said in a statement.