Alyssa Christian describes her experience with multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable and often painful nervous system disorder, as something similar to a woman’s handbag. The item’s outward beauty, visible to passersby, belies the chaos hidden inside.
“A lot of people, when you tell them you have MS, they’ll say, ‘Oh, but you look great,’ but on the inside I feel terrible,” Ms. Christian said.
“So I thought about women’s handbags, and they’re beautiful and we spend hundreds of dollars on them to get these designer bags and one-of-a-kind pieces, but when you open them up, they’re just a disaster. They are so messy on the inside, so I thought it was a perfect correlation.”
Fashion show fundraiser
Ms. Christian will bring her handbag concept to a National Gallery stage on March 11, when she will spearhead the “Pretty on the Outside” fundraiser and fashion show for the MS Foundation of the Cayman Islands.
Diagnosed in August 2015, Ms. Christian, 27, launched the foundation last year to bring awareness and resources to the disease. While the March fundraiser is her first foundation event, she has already brought in several sponsors, including U.S.-based handbag designer Louise & Eleanor.
The brand dedicates a percentage of its proceeds to women’s charities, including Lotus House for homeless women in Miami and Two Wings for sex trafficking survivors in Los Angeles.
While the MS Foundation deviates from the company’s standard causes, founder Megan Tierney was inspired by Ms. Christian’s story. She quickly agreed to work with her, even though the two will not actually meet in person until the week of the fundraiser.
“I think that she had a dream and she went after it. She made it happen, and her dream is also about giving back to others,” Ms. Tierney said.
“That is why we are on this planet … to do something for others. She is very much aligned with the values we have.”
The brand has created a special run of bags for the foundation, to be premiered and auctioned at the show. The “Hope” bag, with a white background and orange squiggles, represents the disorder created by the disease. Orange is the color commonly used for MS awareness.
The 2017 Miss Cayman contestants will model the bags, in a tip of the hat to Ms. Christian, a former contestant.
Contestant Taylor Langfitt said the group was inspired to support the MS Foundation at its charity this year in part to help fight stigma and promote awareness.
“I think it really represents what pageantry is about. It’s about community and supporting other women. It’s even better to support one who ran with us before, as well as educating the public and ourselves on what the symptoms are,” Ms. Langfitt said.
Anika Conolly said their active role in the show also gives it a personal touch for the contestants.
“You get a more in-depth look as to the reason why the foundation was created in the first place. You get to hear the stories multiple times and see the people that the foundation affects. You get to see the happy faces when things go well and get joy from seeing that” she said.
One of those happy faces will be that of C. Joann West, a fellow MS sufferer who has found a community of support through the foundation. Mrs. West has stayed active despite her diagnosis, working at Cayman Airways and volunteering with Junior Achievement Cayman Islands.
Junior Achievement involved
The children in the Junior Achievement program, inspired by Ms. West, have also chosen to create their own bags to be auctioned at the event. Ten percent of the knapsack proceeds will go to the foundation.
“I’m just hoping that what will come out of it is the same thing you see from the cancer societies,” Ms. West said.
“I really hope you’ll see the same thing where you have people coming out in droves to support the foundation. I know a lot of my friends are there behind me to support this group.”
Other event sponsors include Barry Beaux, contributing a dedicated bow tie to the auction, and Appleby.
Tickets for the event go on sale on Jan. 24 and can be purchased at www.caymangiftcertificates.com.