FOR Melburnian Sara Salmeron, being part of the Positive Runway Global Catwalk at the 20th International AIDS conference tomorrow will allow her to use her passion for modelling to honour the memory of friends and family.
Although Ms Salmeron, 21, was born in Australia, much of her family remains in El Salvador and a close family friend and an uncle are among those she has lost to AIDS.
“It’s very personal for me, being involved in something like this,” she said yesterday.
Ms Salmeron is taking a year off to pursue modelling between graduating from a biomedical science degree and a starting a physiotherapy masters. Tomorrow at the conference, she will be one of 27 models displaying the work of designers from Alice Springs to Nigeria on the catwalk, red ribbons painted on their cheeks to represent AIDS awareness.
In a preview for The Australian yesterday, she wore the Australian national costume made for supermodel Jesinta Campbell to wear at the Miss Universe final in 2010. Designed by Sydney-based Natasha Dwyer, the outfit includes a one-piece swimsuit with a handpainted design by an indigenous artist, a multi-layered silk skirt and high-heeled ugg boots.
Fellow model Cassey Mansour, 31, who yesterday wore a New Zealand flax gown by Maori designer Shona Tawhiao, will join Ms Salmeron on the catwalk.
Both were encouraged to start modelling by Melbourne Maori woman Tina Waru, who founded her organisation Indigenous Fashion Unearthed to give professional development opportunities to young Aboriginal and Maori designers, models, make-up artists and stylists.
“We’ve moved a bit beyond that with Positive Runway, and the focus is more broadly on diversity,” Ms Waru said.
The brainchild of Zambian-born, London-based human-rights activist Justina Mutale, “Positive Runway: Global Catwalk to Stop the Spread” is a worldwide HIV/AIDS-response campaign with a presence in more than 150 countries.
Having worked in the social transformation division of the Commonwealth Secretariat and run the Miss Zambia UK beauty pageant which raised money for the orphans of Zambian women who had died of AIDS, Ms Mutale founded Positive Runway in 2011 in recognition of the 30th anniversary of the first formal report of the disease.
“Infections were increasing at the highest rate among young people,” she said. “We needed a creative, innovative approach for the message to get through to them — something attention grabbing.”