“It’s easy to get to where you need to be on this fashion journey, whether you go through Goodwill or go through Rodeo Drive, it doesn’t really matter. The important part is that you have value, and you should be able to dress the way that you want to dress and express who you are.” —Alicia Searcy
Alicia Searcy probably never thought she would be leading a fashion revolution, but then again, her radical acceptance of who she is, and her body positivity held all the makings of a true fashionista. Her transformation was prompted by the Nashville Flood of 2010 and the loss of her possessions. She was also inspired by one of her favorite music artists, David Bowie, whose death was a wakeup call for her to embrace her uniqueness just as he did. These “a ha” moments — changed the trajectory of Searcy’s life and career as she rediscovered herself and embraced what fashion could mean to her – and to others. And To have this moment happen in her 50s made it even more interesting. Alicia soon found herself embarking on an exciting second chapter of life.
Alicia grew up in New York City (Queens) and was born in a time when most people with cerebral palsy (CP) would have been institutionalized. She recalls being a happy child and enjoying a normal childhood. At the age of eight, her family moved to South Florida where they stayed for about 25 years. She then moved to Tennessee with her husband and has been here for more than 27 years.
We recently sat down with her to talk about how she’s changing the face of fashion.
Q: The Nashville Flood of 2010 was a tipping point for you in many respects. Bring us back there, tell us more about how that moment changed your life.
A: We live out in the country, but we lived in a low-lying area and got flooded not when the rains came, but when the dam was opened so that Nashville (downtown Nashville) could be saved. We spent three days in our backyard. And when we came back in (to our house), obviously a lot of my possessions were destroyed because being someone who is not only walker or wheelchair dependent, but also only five feet fall, I don’t have a lot of stuff that’s up high. Most of the things were down low and I lost a lot of my possessions. And, lots of my shoes [which] upset me greatly. I was actually okay until my husband said, “Your shoes.” And I said, “Oh no, oh God, help me please.”
She explains the thought process of what happened next in her mind.
A: When the flood hit, it gave me an opportunity to start over … in a better place than I had left. I think that all trauma in life gives us this opportunity to start things in ways that maybe are more beneficial moving forward. I decided that, after having lived for so long as someone who was invisible, who didn’t really pay attention to what she was wearing, to what she looked like, who really suffered in interacting with people as a result because people do look at you differently when you look sloppy, when you look like you don’t care. Especially if you’re in a wheelchair, that they don’t really understand that.
I decided I would rebuild my wardrobe with intention, … wearing things that not only brought me joy but wearing things that I thought expressed who I was as a person. And of course, that has evolved into pretty much the rest of my life, at this point. And, this was at age 51, okay? Really, if you look at it, my life really didn’t start in earnest until I was in my 50s. This is the point at which I said, “Okay, I’m done hiding, I’m done cowering, I’m done waiting for life to happen. I’m going to happen to life now.”
Q: You’ve got a very good business mind as well … Let me ask you about mentors. Do you have a mentor or someone who influenced you to become the community leader you are today?
A: Yes, and you’re going to laugh when I tell you who it is. I started this whole thing because of David Bowie. This is so bizarre. Obviously, as someone who is 60 I grew up with David Bowie’s music, but what I grew up with that really impacted me was David Bowie was different and he did not cower because of it. He embraced it, he celebrated it. He evolved into more and more different things and personas. He was a very smart businessman, too. But more importantly, he was the poster child for being different and embracing it.
A: So when he died in 2016, it really was a wakeup call to me, that I can’t wait any longer to do this stuff, that tomorrow is not promised. That’s when we really leaned into making Fashion is For Every Body (her nonprofit organization) a reality and not just something that we talked about.
Q: Tell us what’s been happening since that point.
A: In 2012, after finding my footing, I decided — just on a lark — to Google the term “disabled fashion blogger,” and I got absolutely nothing in return. I Googled, I Bing-ed, I did several different search engines, there was nothing. So, I said, “Okay, it’s time for me to become either the first or the first on the radar disabled fashion blogger.”
I started a blog called Spashionista, which is short for spastic fashionista because cerebral palsy makes you spastic … so it’s tongue-in-cheek; it’s a play on words. It’s just a way to be cutesy and to be recognizable. I started the blog. I started to put up posts about what it’s like to not only be disabled, but at that time I was a plus-size woman — even at five feet tall petite — [I]have all these different wardrobe challenges. And then, also, trying to find things that fit me and the language that I was trying to express on that day, all within the confines of a budget. It’s all these different parameters, and then make it appealing to people. The fact that I want you to see me first and see the disability second, or maybe third, or maybe not at all. That does happen, eventually. People who have been around me say that they don’t even notice it anymore.
Q: Tell us about how you’re helping transform some fashion shows. Will you paint a picture of what some of those events have looked like?
A: I can. That is the nonprofit that was started by me and a friend of mine, Krystle Ramos, who used to own Pura Vida Vintage here in Nashville. We started a nonprofit called Fashion is For Every Body. What we do is challenge stereotypes and transform lives using fashion. We take people –adults of all ages, all sizes, and all physical abilities — and we throw, once a year, a big runway show just like you would see at Nashville Fashion Week. The only difference being that we use these atypical models alongside standard models because they’re people, too. We don’t want to exclude them; we want it to be fully inclusive.
Q: It seems to me the Nashville fashion community has become so close knit, but you’ve also become such a big piece of that picture, including the fact that you just signed with a talent agency. Will you talk a little bit about that?
A: I am Tribe Talent’s first 60-year-old model with a visible disability, with cerebral palsy. I’m actually really proud to be able to represent the different and diverse demographics that I do in doing this. I don’t have any expectations beyond it’s going to be great fun. And if something great happens, then that’s wonderful.
If you think back on the fact that 11 years ago, I was surrounded by a ruined house and here I am now, with a successful nonprofit, being able to advocate for people with disabilities in multiple areas and levels between fashion, and access and self-acceptance. And then, to have been able to sign as a professional model with a talent agency, that’s not a bad decade’s work … I don’t think.
Lastly, Searcy shares some of her own fashion advice.
Q: What advice would you give to others, especially since you strive so much, as we all should, to think about diversity and inclusivity?
A: The most important advice that I want to give anyone out there is it’s okay to have the body that you have right now, even if you are not impressed with it. I don’t think any of us are, everybody has body issues. I have body issues. I’m not exempt from that. Work with what you have right this second, think about the things you wear … that make you happy, think about the things you wear that say what you need them to say where and when you need to say it. That is the most important thing!
Give Squeeze the Day a listen and learn about how Alicia Searcy, in her exciting second chapter of life, is helping to change the face of the fashion world.