Since the launch of her eponymous workwear collection in 2012, Carrie Hammer's vocation has been to highlight her consumers' individual beauty and increase their self confidence with pieces meant to celebrate every incarnation of the female form. Little did Hammer know, her line would become much more than clothing to one Angeleno.
After her exceptional Fall 2014 runway presentation featuring chic professional "Role models, not runway models" including the venerable NY Tech Meetup exec Jessica Lawrence and Ms. Wheelchair New York Danielle Sheypuk, Hammer found that her line not only highlighted her customers' natural beauty, it also gave them a voice. The designer received hundreds of emails from women, each sharing how delighted they were to find a designer who represented women of all proportions and body concerns, whether it was a new mother who sought a wardrobe to flatter her post-pregnancy shape or a professional woman who had spent years wheelchair-bound, thinking her sartorial choices were limited to dresses which hid her frame.
Karen Crespo was one such ardent fan of Hammer's work, and the profound story she shared via email after hearing of the Carrie Hammer success story struck a chord with the designer. The young Los Angeles native explained that she was struck with bacterial meningitis two years ago, losing four limbs — and her self-assurance — in her fight against the infection. She wrote,
I am now living my life using prosthetics arms and legs for independence. I still have a hard time dealing with my appearance. I use to have so much self confidence, but lately I have been afraid to accept myself.
After seeing a poised, wheelchair-bound Danielle Sheypuck grace Hammer's runway in February, Crespo wrote the designer a note conveying her deep appreciation for Hammer's commitment to an inclusive sartorial vision, instead of relying on the fashion industry's archetypal willowy street style maven. Crespo cited her gratitude for Hammer's work, writing,
I was so thrilled and moved that a designer welcomed someone with a disability on the runway. You don't see that much often and I hope it really open doors for people with disabilities. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes there's absolutely no right or wrong.
"I wrote her immediately back", Hammer explained, "and asked, 'Can we have a Skype date?" After chatting with Crespo for several minutes, the designer noticed that Crespo wasn't wearing her prosthetics and asked if she would feel comfortable discussing the choice. Crespo explained that her prosthetics were for aesthetic effect rather than utilitarian. Months earlier through Prosthetics company Hanger, Inc., Crespo was able to create a set of customized prosthetic arms suited with twenty-two pounds of force and far more capabilities than her aesthetic pair. The personalized, $100,000 technical miracles were delivered uninsured to her doorstep... and promptly stolen. After months of appealing to the robber through local news outlets and television stations, Crespo gave up hope of finding her prosthetics. A year later, she was still relying on her rudimentary prosthetics.
After listening to Crespo's story, Hammer knew she couldn't sit idly by while Crespo searched in vain for a better solution to her ambulatory needs.
"She approaches life with such a positive attitude. I was so inspired," Hammer explained. "I called [everyone] and said, 'Does anyone know someone at Hanger?' And somebody did. So I called them up and asked if they wanted to give her the arms. They said they would give her the arms, and insurance was able to cover it. We were able to expedite so it only took two months. And I flew out to L.A. and we brought her the arms."
Tears fell in force as an astonished Crespo accepted her new prosthetics, which were painstakingly matched to her skin tone and tuned to fit her range of motion. Her confidence buoyed by the prosthetics, Crespo agreed to fly to New York courtesy of Bustle founder Bryan Goldberg, and walk the Carrie Hammer runway. In an almost prophetic portion of her email to Hammer, Crespo had written,
I have a passion for fashion so I hope one day I will get to show the world "why can't people with disabilities, people like me, be beautiful and model?"
Now, Crespo will have her chance. For her part, Hammer can't wait to include Crespo in her lineup of accomplished, driven role models on her New York Fashion Week runway on September 5, and hopes Crespo's story will encourage women to embrace the facets which make them distinctive and beautiful. "Beauty lies in individuality," she explained with a smile.
Image: Hiokit Lao/Courtesy Carrie Hammer