Syriah Reid Taylor, from a regional South Australian town three hours from Adelaide, never expected her dream of being an international model might come true.
Like her idol, fashion model Winnie Harlow, 12-year-old Syriah has vitiligo, a condition that varies the pigmentation of her skin.
After an unlikely series of events, involving a mural her family painted on a roadside pipeline in their home town of Port Augusta, she is on track to make her runway debut at London Pacific Fashion Week next year.
“I want to encourage a lot of people to be themselves and be happy.”
Plucked from country South Australia
Syriah has been plucked out of obscurity because of a 30-metre mural her mum and family painted to celebrate Reconciliation Week earlier this year.
A few months prior Syriah’s mother, Candace Swan, and cousins Leah and Jasmine Brown, had decided to turn the artwork they had always made for fun into a business, Wulla Designs.
“We really wanted to do this for our kids, so we could take them places and set them up for the future, for whatever they want to do,” Ms Swan said.
They began selling custom canvases, pots and plates on Facebook, but it was an online post of the huge pipeline mural painted by the Pitjantjatjara artists that caught the eye of London fashionista, Ana Lavekau.
“I literally had to wipe my phone to see if I was looking at the right thing.”
‘The world is at your feet’
Ms Lavekau launched London Pacific Fashion Week to promote designers from the Pacific in Europe nearly 10 years ago.
“The idea is to push and launch their brands during London Fashion Week,” she said.
She said upon seeing the mural, she commissioned a fashion line from Wulla Designs on the spot.
“They were like ‘Ana, we’re not too sure — we’ve never done this before’, and I was like ‘ladies, you just painted a 30-foot pipe over four days in the cold!'” Ms Lavekau said.
“I mean seriously, ‘the world is at your feet’.”
The designers were encouraged to scout for their own local models to come with them for the show — which is how Ms Swan’s daughter came to be involved.
“With Syriah, I’m proud of her and I want her to succeed in life,” Ms Swan said.
For Syriah, who had dreamed of being a model, Ms Lavekau said that it was the perfect opportunity to launch a career.
“It’s not just there for Pacific Island designers really, it’s there for models, it’s there for anybody really — so if you feel you want to launch in London, this is your platform,” Ms Lavekau said.
Figuring it out
Ms Swan said the news was a surprise for the trio, who had never been overseas.
“We have to come up with 20 different designs and we want to do dresses, menswear as well.”
It will be a steep learning curve for the group.
‘I’m proud of her’
They will also get the opportunity to share Pitjantjatjara culture during workshops at the prestigious museum Royal Greenwich Museum.
She said she hoped the coronavirus pandemic would allow them, and Syriah, to travel to London in time for the main event in September next year.
The group is fundraising for the trip, and Ms Swan said she hopes her daughter could help change catwalk beauty standards.
“I really want to encourage her and push her to never give up on her dreams,” Ms Swan said.