When the role models in pop culture aren't great, it's time to find better ones

Roz Thomas is a Christian heading up a UK project designed to celebrate those who have overcome difficulties to achieve their goals in life.

Part of the vision is to offer more inspiring role models than those offered by the shallow pop culture that dominates society today.

While living in South Africa with her husband and young son, Roz worked in an orphanage dedicated to those who had lost their parents to HIV and AIDS. It was there that she began to discover untold stories of incredible strength and resilience.

"We had this big open-backed truck that we used to give local people lifts in," she recalls. "We lived in the middle of nowhere, and I met all sorts of people with real stories and struggles, and I just remember looking in the mirror as I was driving and seeing these people's faces light up with the sunlight, and just thinking they looked beautiful, and yet no one will ever know their stories.

"So often models in the West have had really fortunate lives, and it came to me: what if we did a fashion show that showed these people's beauty, or the things they are good at and gifted in – music, dancing, whatever it might be. I mentioned the idea to a friend in Johannesburg, and she suggested we join together to put on an event."

'Tapestry of Dreams' was thus created, which included a fashion show where local people had the opportunity to be styled, dressed and walk the runway to celebrate their achievements. Top UK designer Vivienne Westwood even donated an outfit, while unsigned locals also created pieces.

"When I came back to the UK in 2010, I thought the concept could work here but with a different focus," Roz says.

"Rather than HIV/AIDS, I thought we could focus on issues and struggles that people in the UK are more familiar with; things like alcohol and drug abuse. We want to celebrate those people who have been involved with those things and come through them; we want to raise awareness, share people's amazing stories, and show what's possible.

"We want to encourage people, and motivate them to make changes and get help to build better lives."

As part of the Beauty Unseen project, the team need ten 'role models' who will star in the show, who will hopefully be mentored by celebrities. They are also planning to put a documentary together to share the individuals' stories, and will put on a live show in Bristol in the summer of 2016 where fashion designers, musicians, dancers and performers will come together in one big celebration. Vivienne Westwood has agreed to donate a second outfit for the cause.

"It's all about creative expression, celebrating the whole of a person and their story using their personal gifts and those of our team," Roz explains.

"We want to draw people into those stories in a creative way. For example, in Tapestry of Dreams we had a lady who had really terrible bow legs, but for the show a designer made her this dress with a huge skirt that covered her legs and gave her a renewed confidence. So it's about taking an individual, looking at their story and designing things around them; we envisage musicians writing songs to bring out the emotions associated with someone's story that can be played during the show.

"In terms of role models, we're hoping for people from different socially excluded backgrounds: people with disabilities, the elderly, ex-prisoners and refugees. They can nominate themselves or be put forward by someone else!

"We're Christians, but we'd love help from those of all faiths; everyone's welcome to join in – we think that shows the diversity of the UK coming together, and we can all learn from one another."

Roz is passionate about finding and celebrating the inner beauty in every person, and wants to draw that out of people for Beauty Unseen.

"It sounds like a cliché, but we really want inner beauty to be the emphasis. We only find people's real beauty when we give them an opportunity to show it, and it would be wonderful to follow that through by celebrating the inner beauty in people, while also encouraging and inspiring other people to overcome their own difficulties," she says.

"I also feel that for my children, the role models in pop culture just aren't great, and particularly as a Christian I just think how wonderful it would be to have people in the spotlight who have achieved and overcome difficulties despite really tough circumstances. Those aren't things that are usually associated with fashion, so it should be something a bit different."

Roz and her team need people willing to showcase their talents, whether in fashion design, music, art, dance, choreography, hair and make-up or lighting, and of course – nominations for role models. For more information on how to get involved, go to www.beautyunseen.org

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