Kicked out of the orphanage and onto the runway: Meet New York Fashion Week's most extraordinary catwalk star Fior Mendez, 22, moved to New York just two months ago after she become too old to stay at her orphanage in the Dominican Republic
23:58 GMT, 10 September 2012
00:00 GMT, 11 September 2012
A girl who grew up in an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and moved to New York just two months ago in the hope of a finding a better life has walked in her first runway show at New York Fashion Week.
Fior Mendez, 22, walked the runway on Friday night at Lincoln Center for Nzinga Knight, an American Muslim designer with a Caribbean background.
Tearing up on Today, she said: 'I’m overwhelmed emotionally, it’s a dream. I couldn’t imagine that a person like me would be doing this in New York City.'
From orphan to runway: Fior Mendez, 22, walked the runway on Friday night at Lincoln Center for Nzinga Knight, an American Muslim designer with a Caribbean background
When Mendez was 13, her mother left her at
Orfanato Nios de Cristo orphanage in the town of La Romana, after deciding
she could no longer take care of all her children.
While female orphans in Latin America often
fall into prostitution as an attempt to escape poverty, Miss Mendez had the opportunity to attend
school at the orphanage and received computer training thanks to The Orphaned Starfish
Foundation, which built a computer center for Orfanato Nios de Cristo.
Since she was abandoned by her mother,
Miss Mendez has had no contact with her family, and at 21, she became too old to remain
at the orphanage.
But a good friend of the organization's
founder, Sonia Hane, offered to take her in so she could learn English in
New York City.
This turn of events led to a meeting with a casting
agent, and an opportunity to walk the runway during New York Fashion
'I want to help homeless children have a voice'
The designer explained: 'Just as my third casting session was
about to be over, Fior Mendez walked in the room and did her walk and
had this wonderful expression on her face, plus natural beauty. I was sold'.
Standing at five-foot-ten-inches, the striking orphan explained that modelling was actually an interest she took to keenly from when she was a child, after watching modelling
shows broadcast in the Dominican Republic.
As a teenager, Miss Mendez
would practice poses in the mirror, and has now made her dream a reality.
Luckily, the 22-year-old had a strong
support system, making the transition from orphan to model in the big
city surprising easy – compared to many young aspiring models who cross
oceans every day in the hope of a better life with no chaperones,
translators or guidance.
Small town to big city: The 22-year-old grew up in an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and moved to New York just two months ago
Surrogate family: When Mendez was 13, her mother left her at Orfanato Nios de Cristo orphanage in the town of La Romana, however she went to school, and became a role model for other orphan girls
Home: At 21, Miss Mendez became too old to remain at the orphanage. But a good friend of the organization's founder, Sonia Hane, offered to take her in so she could learn English in New York City
Andy Stein, who got to know Miss Mendez through his The Orphaned Starfish
Foundation, had his girlfriend introduce her to Prince Riley, the founder of Signature Talent Agency.
Mr Riley told Today: 'Every casting I’ve sent her on she’s booked. The fashion industry is definitely embracing her.'
Although she says she would like to continue modelling, and 'one day walk for Chanel', in the future she hopes to study communications and become a newscaster or spokesperson.
'I want to help homeless children have a voice,' she said.
'I want to be a light for those kids. I want to show them that if you are dedicated, you can do something, and that even if you’re sad, you always have hope.'