When Hallel Markowitz was born in 2010, her mother, Gabrielle Markowitz, set up a Facebook account in her name, Hallel MINI Supermodel.
The tagline on Hallel’s Timeline reads, “I am Hallel. I have Down Syndrome. I am not Down Syndrome. I am Hallel.”
It wasn’t necessarily Markowitz’s dream for Hallel to become a model, although she did see it as a means toward normalizing global reactions and awareness of people with disabilities.
And now Markowitz’s idea has come to fruition: Hallel and several other Israeli children with disabilities and special needs recently modeled for the Summer 2017 collection of Select Fashion, an Israeli children’s clothing brand.
Select Fashion partnered with Beyachad, an Israeli organization pushing for inclusion for people with disabilities.
“I hope this is just the beginning,” said Markowitz, who wants it to lead to a business norm in which companies employ people with special needs as models, just “like anyone else.”
Select Fashion wasn’t Markowitz’s first success including models with special needs in an ad campaign. Her pilot was with Skye Green, a local boutique designer for teens, which used a model with special needs in a video campaign.
“It was a success, but it was a boutique,” she said. “We needed something national.”
Markowitz hadn’t gone the modeling route for her three older children, but with the birth of Hallel, she concluded that the world around her needed some education with regard to understanding people with special needs.
“When Hallel was born, I realized, like any parent with a kid with special needs, that my kid was fabulous, but the world is the problem,” she said. “It’s about ignorance and prejudice and people who never encounter people with special needs.”
As Hallel’s mother, she understood that a large part of the issue was that people with special needs are not in the public eye.
“It came on quicker for me, maybe because I’m very in tune with the media,” said Markowitz. “The most powerful place to have visibility is the media, and whether it’s adverts or commercials or the entertainment world on the TV or computer, people with special needs are not there.”
At around the time of Hallel’s birth, models with special needs were first being used in campaigns in the US and England, a normalization that Markowitz saw as extremely powerful.
So she put up the Facebook page, but “got a big blank response” from companies she contacted. One modeling agency did sign Hallel, and she was hired to appear on one episode of a local show.
“I didn’t have the time or energy to push it any further,” said Markowitz.
She made contact with inclusion organization Beyachad: Count Me In, which then hired public relations agent Chen Krupnik to pursue the modeling angle, and finally made the connection with Select Fashion.
Markowitz said it’s a start. But she’s still got dreams — for Hallel, and for anyone else with special needs or disabilities.
“My dream is to see a huge billboard on the Ayalon,” said Markowitz, referring to the major Tel Aviv highway, “for some company where one of the kids happens to have a disability.”