By Lindsay Doty
From the moment she could use a box of Crayola crayons, Kaycee Marshall sketched colorful dresses and accessories titled “Winter” or “Church” in her childhood notepad.
Now 22, the aspiring fashion designer and recent Kent State University graduate is pursuing her longtime fashion dreams. She’s job hunting in the Big Apple and sharing her collection with the world — a line of adaptive evening wear for women who use wheelchairs.
The Danville native appeared on the “TODAY” show May 31 to chat with Jenna Bush Hager and Carson Daly about her fashion line and her can-do approach to living with a disability.
“It was an amazing experience, and I hope my story inspires others that they can do anything they put their mind to,” Marshall said.
Marshall’s senior collection named “The Little Engine That Could” debuted in Kent State’s annual fashion show. Just like Marshall, all of her models used a wheelchair.
“So, one of the things when I was looking for models is that it’s not that there isn’t a market for adaptive clothing, it’s that these women don’t think of themselves as models,” she said. Marshall hopes to change that by empowering women with disabilities through fashion. “I hope that my designs give women confidence and independence.”
The collection is a mix of elegant and contemporary pieces with a bit of an edge. Each dress has an adaptive component, whether it’s a unique zipper for a woman with cerebral palsy or stretchy panels that easily slide over a wheelchair.
“For me, the main issue is always the tight fitting clothes because they aren’t able to go over my spine with my scoliosis,” Marshall said. “So, I usually gravitate towards loose fitting clothes or knitwear. The dress I wore for the (“TODAY”) show was loose, but then I cinched it at the waist to show off my figure,” said the confident blonde who’s not afraid to wear metal chain straps or green faux fur.
From the sewing machine to the runway, her adaptive collection is attracting worldwide attention.
“It’s an awesome feeling to see your daughter succeed,” said Kaycee’s mother Penny Marshall, who was by her side during the “TODAY” interview. “She’s had a dream since she was a little girl to be a fashion designer, and she wasn’t afraid to go after it.”
Marshall has spent a lifetime adapting. She was born with an spinal cord and heart conditions. Her spine was underdeveloped, and she had a number of internal complications.
When she was a child, the family spent much of their time at Riley Children’s Health at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. Little Kaycee underwent three heart surgeries and a series of new at the time specialized urology and gastrointestinal surgeries. The procedures paved the way for the little girl to go the bathroom on her own using a catheter in her belly button and a port on her side.
“I have this picture of Kaycee when she was a little tiny girl when she was a month out from surgery, and it was my proudest moment for her and me together,” recalled Riley Children’s Health urology surgeon, Dr. Mark Cain who performed all of Marshall’s bowel and bladder surgeries.
They were a success. The Riley team has gone on to perform 900 bladder replacements in kids since and has become internationally recognized for their innovative techniques.
“Kaycee has done a great job of adapting her life and managing her bladder just a little different than everybody else,” Cain said.
As she grew older, Marshall continued to be monitored at the IU Health by the same urology doctors and nurses who treated her as a child at Riley’s. The hospitals work together to create transitional care for urology patients as they grow from kids to adults.
Throughout her care, the fashion-forward woman never lost sight of her dreams. While attending Bethesda Christian High School in Brownsburg, she learned to sew by pushing the pedal between her knees. It wasn’t long before she got the idea to design clothing for women like her.
“It was prom actually, and I was trying on dresses and nothing would work,” Marshall said. “That’s when I started to think about what makes these dresses not work.”
After high school graduation, she took her ideas to fashion school in New York and abroad.
“She’s my can-do girl. I always knew she would do something big and she’s doing it,” Penny Marshall said. “She’s living her dream. It makes me so proud of her,”
Marshall has never let her disability dictate her path.
“Honestly it has helped me with problem solving, and I use a lot of creative thinking to be able to do things other people are doing,” said the designer.
She hopes by sharing her story and her designs that she will inspire other women with disabilities to also pursue their passion…and look stylish while doing it.