Fashion student overcomes challenges to pursue dreams

Freshman fashion design major Kaycee Marshall sews on a jacket she designed for class in the Schwartz Center on Wednesday, April 13, 2016.

Dana Miller

When freshman fashion design major Kaycee Marshall is in the sewing lab of Kent State’s Fashion School, she places the pedal of the sewing machine in between her knees because her legs aren’t strong enough to push the pedal with her feet. Despite this, she still manages to keep up with the other students.

Marshall was born with sacral agenesis, a disability that affects the development of the lower region of her body. For Marshall, this meant her spine was underdeveloped and stopped between the eleventh and twelfth thoracic vertebrae. Due to the syndrome, she now uses a wheelchair as her transportation.

“Obviously, I do have a disability,” she said. “But if you ask me to describe myself I would never describe myself as disabled. It’s just not a big part of me.”

Fashion, however, is the part of Marshall’s life that she does describe. 

“I’ve always wanted to be a designer, even when I was little,” she said. “I always had sketch books full of designs and everything.”

Savanna Harrison, one of Marshall’s friends from her home state of Indiana, said that fashion has always been a “Kaycee staple.”

“I could watch her design clothes for hours,” Harrison said. “(Kaycee) is so meticulous but always imaginative. I love how she can make something so simple yet unique.

Marshall started sewing in high school and attended several summer programs centering on the subject. She recently participated in a three-day program at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles , as well as a program in Chicago.


 Carrie Hammer, a fashion designer who sent the first wheelchair model down the runway during New York Fashion Week 2015, has been a role model for Marshall. But, her true passion is haute couture.

“I like Chanel, that kind of thing,” Kaycee said. “I could really see myself doing more stuff like that, with the fast pace. I do think it would be cool to be able to connect and also (raise) awareness (for) models … with disabilities because there is a lack of that in the industry.”

Over the course of their five-year friendship, Harrison  said she has seen Marshall overcome many obstacles, with adaptive sewing being one that still — to this day — amazes Harrison. 

“Kaycee adapted and was able to learn how to use the foot pedal with one hand and direct the garment (or) fabric with the other hand,” Harrison said. “You could say that she has had to work even harder than her peers, but she would never use this as an excuse.”

Marshall began life as a fighter, Harrison said.

Marshall’s mother, Penny Marshall, said that in the first five years of Marshall’s life, she had gone through five surgeries — open-heart and clubfoot repair. Marshall had to spend 18 days in the hospital before her family could bring her home.

Just as Harrison said, Penny also said that Marshall would never give up — on anything.

“Kaycee is my ‘can do girl; She has never complained about her physical issues and never lets it stop her,” Penny said. “She is my brave and strong girl (who’s) not afraid to go after her dreams.”

Marshall and Harrison first met at a middle school basketball game when Marshall went to watch her older brother play.

Harrison recalled sitting in the student section when she and a couple of other girls saw Marshall sitting by herself. Harrison said she and her friends asked Marshall if she wanted to sit with them.

“Honestly, I was shocked by the way (Marshall) maneuvered around the bleachers,” Harrison said.

Marshall said that when she meets new people, she portrays herself in a way that they see her as a person first, not her disability.

“I think it’s more of how you present yourself;  just talking about it,” Marshall said. “Just (by) showing your personality, talking about your likes or interests, connecting more than just on your disability.”

Harrison said the building block of her and Marshall’s friendship is openness. Like Marshall, but on a much smaller scale, Harrison said she, too, has health issues.

“We use each other’s strength to get through tough medical problems and we share all of the gory details,” Harrison said. “We exchange stories about our doctors and treatment plans and look up each other’s conditions online.”

Though the two girls now live about six hours away from each other since going to separate universities after high school—  Harrison is studying nursing at the University of Southern Indiana — Harrison said their friendship still remains strong.

“Kaycee  is one of those friends that you can be separated from but come back to and immediately pick up where you left off,” Harrison said. “She is understanding and I find myself wanting to tell her everything about my life.”

When Marshall was accepted to Kent State, Harrison recalled being worried about her.

“Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly proud of her and excited that she would be studying what she loved,” Harrison said.

But, in the back of Harrison’s mind, she remembered thinking, “Would people laugh at her? Would she get picked on? Would someone be there to help her if she dropped something?”

However, Marshall said she feels like Kent State has become her home because the campus has been so accommodating to her.

“The (Student) Accessibility Services has been super helpful, even when it snows,” Marshall said. “I had to go all the way to Rockwell Hall and I made it there on time; I’ve been really impressed with everything.”

Since coming to Kent State, Marshall said her confidence in herself grew, which was a major turning point in her life.

“Honestly, I think it was more recently, senior year (of high school) and even coming here (to Kent State); just being confident in who I am,” Marshall said. “(I’m) finally able to do what I love, which is so much fun.

Although Marshall has had setbacks in her life, overcoming them has been possible with the help and support of not just her friends and family, but with her love for fashion, as well.

“To me, my wheelchair is just my way of getting around,” she said.

Dana Miller is a city reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].