At the best of times, fashion can lift spirits and connect people in a celebration of expression.
On May 29th, CAMH’s Suits Me Fine boutique put on its 10th annual fashion show.
Suits Me Fine has been open for nearly 20 years, providing clothing and toiletries to CAMH clients free of charge. Every year, its volunteers help style clients who model their looks down a runway in front of a crowd of cheering supporters.
Linda in her signature pink for the Suits Me Fine fashion show
Dozens of models strolled down the catwalk in the Sandy and Jim Treliving Gymnasium as a standing-room only crowd cheered them on. Their looks were announced by this year’s co-emcees, Hudson’s Bay Company Vice Chairman Bonnie Brooks and fashion show committee member Fionna Blair.
Adenir struts the runway for the Suits Me Fine fashion show
All of the models were cheered on by the crowd and some had special support. Seven of the male models are part of CAMH’s Toronto Drug Treatment Court Program. Participation in the show counts towards their community service and is seen as a self-esteem booster.
Justice Mary Hogan, who administers the program at Old City Hall in Toronto, has been coming to the show for years to watch her clients.
Justice Mary Hogan administers the Toronto Drug Treatment Court Program at Old City Hall in Toronto. She comes to the Suits Me Fine fashion show to support her clients.
“I think when people feel that they look good and they’ve got some nice clothes to put on and they have the ability to come down this runway and show their colleagues how great they can look it does a lot for self-esteem and that’s really important in terms of recovery.”
Spectrum clinic peer support worker Bronwen Sims incorporates yoga into her modelling for the 10th annual Suits Me Fine fashion show
Bronwen Sims is a peer support worker for the Spectrum clinic at CAMH, which treats people with schizophrenia and related mental illnesses. She lives with bipolar disorder and was one of this year’s models. She says Suits Me Fine has a special place in her heart.
“About six years ago I was introduced to the Suits Me Fine organization and I got a lovely powder blue business outfit, jacket and skirt, that I wound up wearing to my first interview here at CAMH and landed the job as peer support worker, so it means a lot to me.”
Bronwen is trained as a yoga instructor and even brought out her yoga moves on stage. Besides having fun, she hopes the fashion show helps reduces stigma about mental illness.
“We’re just like anybody else, you know, normal human beings who also want to have a little bit of fun… just because we have a mental health diagnosis doesn’t mean we can’t do things that every other person can do.”
When the show first began a decade ago, it didn’t nearly have so many participants ready to walk the runway. Norma McDowell is the CAMH volunteer coordinator for Suits Me Fine and has been organizing the show since the beginning. She remembers the first years, when fewer models meant frantic changing behind the scenes.
“In the past we had five or seven clients signing up and what we had to do is have them change, rechange and change.”
In the ten years of the show, Norma’s noted one constant: client joy.
L to R: Suits Me Fine fashion co-emcee Bonnie Brooks (Vice Chairman for Hudson’s Bay Company), show organizer Norma McDowell (Suits Me Fine Volunteer Coordinator) and co-emcee Fionna Blair (Fashion Show Committee Member)
“It’s amazing. I love it. Just to see the smiles on our clients when they walk the runway, that’s really important to me. It’s such a great feeling to see our clients, they feel happy on stage and people are clapping them on. They have the strength to walk down and walk the walk and be happy.”
Norma still works every day to gather more donations, volunteers and support for the Suits Me Fine boutique.
“We never had a lot to give to our clientele but now there are lots of businesses in the community that are giving us a lot of stuff. We still need more but we’re getting there. It’s going to take a while but eventually we will.”