By Lisa Danford
Marisa Conners was beaming, sitting in a blush pink dress that subtly sparkled in the sunlight. Family, friends and supporters surrounded her, offering hugs and congratulatory words.
Earlier that afternoon, Conners debuted the second collection from her namesake fashion line at the third annual Acceptance Week Fashion Show. It included three elegant dresses, all with different silhouettes reminiscent of 1960s culture and fashion.
“This was an incredible show on my journey,” she wrote after the event at the Harrison Activity Center. “Words cannot describe how grateful I am to present my new unique designs.”
Her deep love of style began around age 3, when she’d often play fashion games on the computer.
Conners dreamed of becoming a designer and entrepreneur when she got older. Her passion continued throughout high school. She learned about graphic design and how to use software to take her sketches to the next level.
Conners, 25, has cerebral palsy that affects all the limbs in her body. She uses a wheelchair for long distances but can stand independently, and she uses an iPad or letter board to communicate. Conners says her personal experiences focused her career path toward inclusive design.
“When I started researching five years ago, I noticed there weren’t many adaptive clothing options,” she said. “Inclusive fashion means creating a stylish garment for anybody who desires it. I never let my disability stop me from doing what I love.”
The stars aligned in 2020 when she met Raileigh Legner, who created Harrison High School’s Acceptance Week. The annual event aims to change how students and the community perceive people with disabilities.
“We had an instant connection,” Legner said. “Working with Marisa has been amazing. We both share the same love for adaptive fashion and advocating for those with exceptionalities.”
In 2021, Conners launched her brand at the Acceptance Week Fashion Show. It was a yellow dress with a daisy pattern and a magnetic backing instead of a zipper. She began selling her first dress six months later—it sold out in 33 days. “This moment melted my heart,” she said.
Conners loves vintage, feminine and chic styles combined with simple, bright patterns. For her second collection, “Salem’s Modern Swinging Sixties,” she found inspiration from her maternal family and what they wore in the 1960s. Two looks, Mabel and Gloria, are even named after her grandmother and aunt, respectively.
Her parents have always supported her passion and were thrilled to finally see her latest collection. “From a very young age, Marisa was teaching herself reading, drawing and design,” said her mom, Marie. “She is so determined and so motivated. I can’t describe my pride and joy knowing Marisa made her dreams come true.”
Legner added she is fascinated by Conners’ process, from designing and picking out fabrics to getting the clothes made and ready for the runway. “I’m excited to keep watching her aspirations come to reality,” she said.
All three dresses from the “Salem’s Modern Swinging Sixties” collection are available on Conners’ website, with customizable sizes, closures and matching scrunchies. She also created a signature color palette, Wisteria, a combination of bright pink and green, and is selling a lightweight shirt in those colors.
As she grows her business, Conners is eager to work with new clients, expand her brand and open a fashion studio. “I focus on ability, not disability,” she said. “I want to speak up to encourage others to make their dreams come true. I also hope to promote inclusion in the fashion industry because anybody should be able to wear something special and fabulous without difficulty.”