When Mental Health and Fashion Collide: Break Free NYFW’s September Designer Showcase Features Project Runway Designer Helen Castillo and Mental Health Activist Renee Cafaro

Break Free NYFW, a designer showcase with a cause announces their featured designers for the season including Helen Castillo, of Project Runway and Project Runway All Stars, and Mental Health Activist and Plus Sized Designer, Renee Cafaro. The showcase will be held on Saturday, September 10th, which is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Break Free NYFW is a runway show with a cause, leading the discussion on mental health and substance use within the fashion industry and beyond. We have invited mental health and addiction rights activists to not only strut their stuff on the runway but to be featured designers showcasing their collections for the New York elite to immerse themselves within their brands’ core mission of shining a light on these pressing issues.

Now more than ever we need to continue this national discussion on a local level. In 2022, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) announced a 15% increase in drug overdose deaths, with that figure surpassing 108,000 deaths in May of this year. With more than 932,000 people who have died since 1999 from a drug overdose and the 19.86% (nearly 50 million) of Americans who suffer from a mental illness, this conversation needs to take the runway.

The Break Free NYFW Designer Showcase is being held on Saturday, September 10th, which is World Suicide Prevention Day, a day to raise awareness of suicidal behaviors and how to effectively prevent them. September is also National Recovery Month, a month to celebrate those who have sought recovery from a substance use disorder and to encourage others to seek ways to gain sobriety and live a sober lifestyle. September is also National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in the United States.

A portion of the proceeds from this show will go towards the Break Free Foundation, which serves as the scholarship oversight committee whose purpose is to provide scholarships to assist those seeking treatment for a substance use disorder through attending a rehabilitation center.

Founded by Alexandra Nyman, the creative director of LadyCat and editor-in-chief of Soberocity, “Break Free NYFW is my plea to society to open up about their struggles with mental health and substance use disorders and to take it as seriously as they do physical health. If these past few years have taught us anything, it should be that our mental health needs to stop being pushed aside and ignored.”

For the upcoming Break Free show during NYFW, Nyman said, “We are thrilled to be able to officially announce the launch of our second showcase and will include the same level of diversity and inclusion as the first showcase did back in February.” Nyman wants to showcase real people wearing fabulous clothing, and she wants to bring awareness to real-life struggles.

The Break Free NYFW Designer Showcase will also serve as an awareness campaign as attendees will listen to the participants discuss their experiences with mental health, substance use disorders, and the impact they have on the individuals who are living in recovery.

The showcase will feature Project Runway 12 and Project Runway All Stars Season 4 & 6 alumna, Helen Castillo, Mental Health and Body Positivity Activist, Renee Cafaro, and up-and-coming designer, Ashley Alt.

Helen Castillo began her fashion studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After numerous internships, which included Vera Wang Bridal House and Vivienne Westwood, ambition took her on to bigger opportunities with becoming a finalist on back-to-back seasons of Project Runway Season 12 and Project Runway All Stars Season 4, and more recently Project Runway All Stars Season 6.

Having designed Mary Lambert’s 54th Grammy performance and red carpet gowns working with Madonna’s stylist, B. Akerlund, to compliment her performance look. The exposure launched her career and she was personally recruited by Zac Posen to work for him as a designer after PRAS Season 4. Lifetime reached out to Helen again for PRAS Season 6 as a ‘Veteran’ designer to compete and rank as the last standing female designer.

Most recently, Castillo has been teaching within her hometown community of Union City, serving as a mentor not only to her aspiring fashion design students, and being a trusted adult for them to confide in their mental health struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Renee Cafaro has spent a lifetime fighting for the underdog and social justice. Her years of working in the public sector have led her to shine a light on a new political issue: size inclusivity which she is tackling through the launch of her new brand: RCA Public Label, the debut ready-to-wear brand by Renee Cafaro Atelier.

Renee Cafaro is a freelance writer who has written articles on a myriad of topics, with articles published in the New York Post, Yahoo! Travel, and many online outlets. Cafaro serves as the US editor of a premier plus-size fashion magazine, SLiNK, available at Barnes & Noble and retailers in 18 countries.

As a fashion expert, journalist, and consumer, Renee is all too aware of the pitfalls in the industry, which is why she has committed to providing high-quality items with a focus on fit and functionality for sizes 16-32.

VALT’s designer, Ashley Alt, is a Connecticut-based writer and stylist looking to raise awareness of the positive impact dressing up has on our mindset. She started her clothing line – a vibrant collection of one-piece-wonders – upon the realization that getting dressed again got her mind right again. After battling postpartum depression when her son was born, Ashley has since made it her mission to enlighten new moms and women on the power that getting dressed holds.

VALT is a luxury clothing brand made for the socialite. Built on the foundation of positive mental health, VALT’s mission is to dress women in jaw-dropping, sophisticated styles so they can lead a life of elegance and fabulousness. Working only with sustainable fabrics, each collection of robes and jumpsuits is a limited edition to ensure style exclusivity.

These designers have all come together to share the story of how mental health and substance use has impacted their lives, and are honored to be a part of this important showcase. The Break Free NYFW Designer Showcase will be held on Saturday, September 10th at 440 Grand Street in NYC, NY. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.com.

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