Published on October 25, 2022 by Ashley Smith  
Lauren Bell

Samford senior graphic design student Lauren Bell is a fierce advocate for individuals with disabilities. In September she realized a dream to be part of the fashion industry while participating in Runway of Dreams, a non-profit that works toward inclusion, acceptance, and opportunity in the fashion industry.

Bell discovered Runway of Dreams last spring while working on a graphic design project searching for influencers with disabilities on social media.  She direct messaged them and shared her story briefly and offered to help their organization through graphic design or by modeling in one of their runway shows.  They got back in touch and ultimately invited her to be a model in the Runway of Dreams Foundation’s Fashion Revolution Runway Show that took place this fall in New York during Fashion Week.

“I have always dreamed of bringing people with disabilities into fashion marketing and media. That is the very reason why I chose to study graphic design at Samford University. I have been chasing this dream ever since I was a little girl, and it is truly remarkable to be in the season of life where so much is finally coming to fruition!” said Bell.

Bell is enthusiastic about her experience. “Walking in NYFW 2022 was EXTRAORDINARY! It truly comforted and healed my inner child, the little girl who flipped endlessly through Vogue magazines, loved watching season after season of Project Runway, and was constantly inspired to recreate the latest greatest YouTube make-up tutorial. The entire day of the runway I found myself choking back tears. I have never felt so seen, so understood, so championed on, and so loved by a God who created me and has a purpose for my life to inspire and bring about change to the fashion industry.”

The event was livestreamed, so her family, friends and Samford community had the opportunity to see the runway show. “My family had a watch party at our house, and it literally brought tears to my eyes to see her go down the runway—she was living a dream that I had known about since her first semester. And one that was not just about what she wanted, but about what she wanted to be able to do for others. And I know that this is just the beginning for Lauren,” said Geoff Sciacca, associate professor of graphic design. 

Bell has felt supported by the Samford community and her faculty.  “My Samford community has constantly encouraged my love for fashion and dream to effect change for accessibility throughout my  four years here,” said Bell.  “The faculty have pushed me to create graphic design projects that showcase my story as a female with a disability, and because of this I have an entire portfolio of designs that are congruent with my dreams.”

“She is immensely talented, but she is also infectiously positive. She has worked through so many difficulties and seems to never take ‘no’ for an answer,” said Sciacca. “She is a gift to the Samford community, and she genuinely has my deepest respect and admiration.”

Lauren has also improved the Samford community’s accessibility through her advocacy.  During his students’ junior year, Sciacca assigns a project related to social change that encourages them to see graphic design as a tool for impacting the world around them.  Bell chose to tackle the issue for greater accessibility at Samford. Created to function as a conceptual, real-world project, “This is the first time in over a decade of having students create social awareness campaigns that I’ve had a student choose a project that actually  impacted immediate and noticeable change,” said Sciacca. “It got the attention of the administration at Samford, and they worked with her to prioritize a list of pressing needs on campus and have been working in the months since to address those needs.”

Now back in Birmingham and busy with her senior year, Bell would like to continue her journey in the fashion industry and is currently contracted with GAMUT that connects individuals with disabilities with opportunities in fashion and talent.  She is excited about what is on the horizon, but also wants to be “present right now and steward my last semester at Samford well. I’m combining all of my interests for advocacy, beauty, fashion, and empowerment in my senior project that will be showcased in the Samford Art Gallery in December of 2022,” said Bell.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.