• UMass Amherst Voices

UMass Sisters on the Runway: Raising Awareness for Domestic Violence Prevention Through Fashion

At UMass, Sisters on the Runway is a non-profit organization that hosts an annual fashion show raising proceeds for Safe Passage, a domestic violence help center in Northampton MA.

Sisters on the Runway, taken by Nate Fitzgerald

“The mission of Sisters on the Runway is to raise awareness and to offer resources, but make sure women still have control over the choices they make, because in domestic violence relationships they lose that power and control so our mission is to empower them through using an empowerment model to inspire them to make decisions on their own but also know that they have these resources to fall back on."

Saheli Pujari, President of Sisters on the Runway

Saheli Punjari, taken by Nate Fitzgerald

Saheli Pujari, Junior, President

“Three generations of women in my family have suffered from domestic violence and the core of their stories were the same even though they experienced it so differently and it’s the fact that they felt trapped in these relationships and that they didn’t know there were resources available to them.

The SOTR Fashion Show is not a typical fashion show. Pujari and the other E-Board members emphasize diversity and body positivity through this event, “the fashion industry exposes these girls who look the same and have a particular body shape. We want you to feel beautiful, if you want a stage to do it, and clothes that make you embrace every part of yourself, we want to give that to you."

The models showcased pieces from Mistress Rox, TJ Maxx, and student designer Jaida Fonfield also contributed a pantsuit to the event.

“We have a very diverse E-Board where the women of color are actually a majority… they bring their cultural experiences with them… I asked why they wanted to join SOTR. They always say it’s something that they’ve seen, but something that’s never been addressed in their communities, and can go as far as saying it’s normalized. It’s personal for them, you can feel it in that room. I have never been more inspired by a group of people. They do their work not because they have to, but because they have an inner drive to make a difference.” Saheli Pujari

Hasini Jayawardena(left), taken by Madison Palmer

Hasini Jayawardena, Junior, Event Coordinator:

Junior, Hasini Jayawardena is an Event Coordinator for SOTR. Part of her role includes reaching out to sponsors and fostering relationships with the organizations who donate. This year, Jayawardena had the opportunity to get sponsorships from the Red Sox and the Patriots.

Fiona Hanlon, Sophomore, Fashion Director:

Fiona Hanlon(right), taken by Phoebe Father

Hanlon is a Fashion Director, in this role she works with models on a weekly basis training them for the runway.

“We have models of all sizes and it’s just about inspiring confidence in everyone. As a fashion director, these girls come in very shy, but as the weeks go on you can see how they are more confident walking, and how they open up.”

Yama Estimé, taken by Phoebe Father

Yama Estimé, Sophomore, Secretary & Treasurer

For two years in a row Estimé MC’d the fashion show, energizing the crowd and inspiring the models. For Estimé, this SOTR’s mission is personal.

“I’m Haitian, and in Haiti domestic violence is everywhere… And I’ve seen it in my own family. So by doing this, I feel like I have a voice for my family, and for my country, and letting them know ‘This is not ok anymore’. As a kid I would see domestic violence right in my face and think it was normal, but then coming to America and realizing how that actually isn’t normal made me realize that we cannot keep doing this. It’s not love, the way people think it is. So using my voice, specifically my voice, because I’m very powerful with my words, I’m gonna use that to speak up against domestic violence.” Yama Estimé

Shemarie Hyppolite, taken by Nate Fitzgerald

Shemarie Hyppolite, Freshman, Model

At every one of our practices we always encourage each other and there is no idea that just because someone is skinner they are prettier, we all see the beauty in each other. The models are all diverse, not two people look the same.”

Joshua Vigeland, taken by Nate Fitzgerald

Joshua Vigeland, Freshman, Model

“What inspired me to join was the cause, raising awareness of domestic violence prevention. And modeling is fun too, it’s really awesome to be able to empower people. There’s so many different people in this organization but we all have a common goal, so when we come together during practices this we know we are doing this for others, so it helps build community”

Like on Facebook: Sisters on the Runway- UMass Division

Instagram: @sotr_umass

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233

Safe Passage Hotline: -800-799-SAFE (7233)

CWC Hotline:(413) 545-0800

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