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Often, the catwalk is blamed for dismantling the delicate confidence of teenage girls.
But for 19-year-old Canberra girl Tanisha Chinanai, the catwalk has been the one thing to lift her out of the shock and heartbreak of losing her beloved big brother Lucas.
After Lucas took his own life last year, Tanisha found it hard to get out of bed most mornings. She has spent much of the past 12 months battling shock and depression and wondering how to make sense of it all.
A few months ago, her mother Ericka made a-spur-of-the moment decision to try and get her daughter to leave the house and focus on something enjoyable. Tanisha had always had a latent interest in fashion and modelling, so Ericka signed her up for a FASHFEST audition. Tanisha decided she would at least give it a try.
It was a turning point.
Tanisha’s bi-racial beauty – her father was Zimbabwean – caught the eye of FASHFEST co-founder Andrea Hutchinson who signed her up to walk on two of the three nights.
Andrea has also made a point of seeking Tanisha out to mentor her, and is keen to discuss future representation with her agency Haus Models.
For Tanisha, the experience has been nothing short of life-changing.
“I was so surprised I even got chosen for FASHFEST, but I have been to every rehearsal and I have made lots of new friends and it has been really fun to just get out and meet new people. I feel like there is something to look forward to now – something to focus on beyond missing Lucas.”
Ericka is incredibly grateful for the opportunity FASHFEST has presented to Tanisha, and has praised organisers for nurturing her daughter, in particular, the positive and supportive role that Andrea has played in ensuring Tanisha has enjoyed her first foray into the modeling world.
“I know the fashion industry sometimes gets a bad rap, but I am so grateful that Tanisha has had this experience and I have seen a change come over her as a result. She has gone from being withdrawn to wanting to go out and find a future. She has even organised a job interview.”
Like her daughter, Ericka is still reeling from the loss of Lucas.
It was an inexplicable act with both mother and daughter unable, to this day, to pinpoint any depression, mental health issue or other crisis which may have pushed Lucas to despair.
If anything, his future was looking so bright. The 19-year-old had many friends, a happy disposition and had just been called back for a third interview in a Customs cadetship that he was hoping to secure. He’d even just bought a car. He seemed so happy. The devastation that Tanisha endured when she found her beautiful brother almost broke her.
Her mother explains that despite being a year apart in age, the siblings shared an incredible bond.
“It’s difficult to explain, but even when we look back to them being babies, Lucas walked very late and Tanisha walked very early so they both started walking at the same time. It was like they were twins and he was waiting for her to catch up.”
Lucas also played a big role in helping Tanisha embrace her racial differences in Australia – encouraging her to be proud of her African heritage and striking looks.
Ericka says she has faith her daughter can forge a path in modelling if she wants to. And even if she doesn’t take it further, the FASHFEST experience has turned her attitude to life around.
“I think it is always nice to acknowledge when positive things happen and I really am so grateful that FASHFEST has helped her regain her self-confidence and spark.”
Tanisha understands how important the change to her outlook has been for her mother too.
“I know how hard it has been for mum. I understand how good it has been for her to see me being happy and fulfilled. I know she wants me to achieve something with my life and I can and will.”
If you need help or support contact, Lifeline: 13 11 14, beyondblue: 1300 22 4636, Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 (24/7 crisis support), or headspace: 1800 650 890 – www.headspace.org.au.