Karrie Brown was not a fashionista or longtime girly girl aspiring to be a model. In fact, for years she preferred to wear only T-shirts and sweatpants.
Why? Because they’re soft and comfortable, Karrie’s mother, Sue, told TheBlaze of her daughter who has Down syndrome and autism.
But the 17-year-old from Illinois is now the new face of a popular clothing brand.
Sue recalled when she and her daughter stepped into the Wet Seal, the mom asking the store manager if they carried clothes that would fit her 4-foot-8-inch daughter. The manager said yes, noting how she herself was a similar size, and wore the store’s brand of clothes.
From there, Karrie was hooked when she “realized she could look cute and be comfortable too,” Sue said of the clothing’s trendy style but softer fabrics.
Like many a mom, Sue posted Karrie’s first day of school picture on her Facebook page. In response, she received several comments from other mothers of children with Down syndrome who wanted to know more about the clothes.
Conversations continued and Sue told them Karrie wanted to model for the store. And so the “Karrie Brown — Modeling the Future” page was started on Facebook.
“Wet Seal if you are listening, Karrie fits in while standing out!’ and that’s directly from your mission statement,” the Facebook page reads.
Sue’s plan was to post one picture of Karrie wearing Wet Seal’s clothes each day to see if she would get noticed. She posted the first day of school photo Tuesday, Aug. 13.
By Wednesday, Karrie’s page had 1,000 “likes” — and Sue got a message from the Wet Seal. Yes, it only took a day for the clothing store to sense the star.
The store told Sue if Karrie’s page could get 10,000 likes by Friday, then they’d give the high school junior a surprise. As of Thursday that week — a day before the deadline — Karrie’s page had 11,000 likes. As of Sept. 23 — more than a month later — Karrie’s page has more than 20,000 likes.
“YOU DID IT! Thanks to everyone who got #KarriedAway with us & helped get our friend Karrie Brown – Modeling the Future 10,000 likes in less than 3 days. We are going to fly Karrie out to our HQ in California for her very own photo shoot. While in California she will be a VIP guest at our#WetSealPlus launch event, go on a shopping spree & get styled by our friend, blogger and fashionista, Marcy Guevara! CONGRATS!” the Wet Seal wrote in its announcement.
The next few weeks were a whirlwind with Sue telling TheBlaze the only word she can think of to describe it is “incredible.” Karrie and Sue were flown to Los Angeles at the end of August for the Wet Seal photoshoot and also received a trip to Disneyland.
When they returned after the the three-day trip to the West Coast, Sue wrote on Facebook Karrie’s response to what part was her favorite.
“Wet Seal people, wait, seeing Kate, wait, Disneyland, wait, swimming at the hotel, wait…” I think it’s fair to say she loved it all!!! She slept in until 7:00 this morning and has been dancing in her room since she got up,” Sue wrote.
Within her first week of life, Karrie’s kidneys failed and her respiratory system crashed. She also had heart surgery. On Karrie’s Facebook page, Sue said she was “told to plan for her funeral.”
When the then newborn Karrie fought back and it was clear she would make it, Sue wrote that the doctor told her not to expect much from her daughter.
“Someone said to me, ‘if you’re lucky, maybe she will grow up to wipe tables at McDonald’s,’” Sue said, telling TheBlaze she was stunned that someone was limiting her child while she was still just a baby.
Although Sue said there is absolutely nothing wrong with a job like that, she hopes Karrie can show how those with disabilities can easily do other things.
“I first want her to be happy,” Sue said. “Second, I think she might represent the face of where employment for people with disabilities is going.”
What does Karrie want to do?
Sue said it changes fairly often, as it does with many teenagers. Karrie has expressed an interest in the library where she currently volunteers. Some days she tells her mom she wants to work with kids (she volunteers at the YMCA too). She also wants to go to college to study history and received a YMCA Youth of the Year Scholarship that could help the honor roll student down that road.
“I just want Karrie to spread her wings and do what she wants,” Sue said.
Watch KMOV-TV’s report about the inspirational story: