19-Year-Old Acid Burn Victim to Walk Runway at New York Fashion Week

Reshma Quereshi was left disfigured after she was doused in sulfuric acid.

September 8, 2016, 12:54 PM
PHOTO:Reshma Qureshi, who was the victim of acid attack, will be walking the runway during New York Fashion Week. This image taken from the Make Love Not Scars Instagram site.
Reshma Qureshi, who was the victim of acid attack, will be walking the runway during New York Fashion Week. This image taken from the Make Love Not Scars Instagram site.

— -- Warning: the images used in this story could be disturbing to some.

Two years ago, a 17-year-old Indian girl dreamed of finishing school and getting a good job. But a brutal attack originally meant for her sister, changed the course of her life.

Reshma Quereshi survived an acid attack by three assailants as she made her way to a school in the northern Indian town of Allahabad in May 2014. Her face was severely disfigured and one of her eyes permanently damaged after the men held her down and doused concentrated sulfuric acid on her, later determined to be a revenge attack carried out by her brother-in-law to punish her sister for taking their son.

Today, Quereshi will walk the runway during the most coveted fashion event of the year at the fashion capital of the world. The now 19-year-old will be showcasing the designs for two prominent Indian designers during the prime opening show for FTL Moda, the fashion production firm that works with powerhouse brands like Fendi, Oscar de la Renta, Yves Saint Laurent and Versace.

First, Quereshi will open for Mumbai-based designer Archana Kochhar, FTL Moda President Llaria Niccolini told ABC News. The merging of Quereshi's and Kochhar's worlds is significant because Kochhar's colorful, trendy designs represent luxury and decadence, while Quereshi grew up in a "very poor" area of India, Niccolini said. Quereshi may close the show as well.

"We love the idea of combining these two worlds to see how they can work together and send a message," Niccolini said.

During the evening show, Quereshi will walk for Vaishali Couture, which is considered one of the most significant fashion lines in India for its bespoke designs, Niccolini said.

It is not clear exactly what Quereshi will wear while walking the runway, but the outfit will undoubtedly be "special," Niccolini said.

Quereshi's participation in New York Fashion Week is part of FTL Moda's #TakeBeautyBack campaign, in collaboration with the Global Disability Inclusion and Fashion Week Online, which aims to end the practice of acid attacks. Quereshi's journey will soon be made into a documentary.

“My vision was: let’s push boundaries to include diversity in the fashion industry," Niccolini said of her decision to invite Quereshi, who had never left India until now, to walk in the fashion week opener.

As she began to heal from the attack, Quereshi became the face of Make Love Not Scars, a nonprofit organization that, through its powerful images of acid attack survivors, gives a voice to survivors and leads India's campaign against the sale of acid and prevalence of acid attacks. The organization posted a video to Facebook last month that showed the moment Quereshi found out she would be traveling to New York.

In the video, a smile emerged on Quereshi's face as soon as she learned about her upcoming trip. The smile quickly became tears of joy, and Quereshi could only nod when asked if she was excited to visit America.

Quereshi is adamant in her message that beauty lies within the soul and not in physical appearance. She often conducts makeup tutorials videos for Make Love Not Scar’s YouTube channel, such as “How to apply eyeliner” and “How to get perfect red lips," providing a compelling juxtaposition between the superficiality of outward beauty and the scores of honor attacks on women in her home country.

About 1,000 acid attacks are reported in India every year, according to Fashion Week Online, but that number is likely much higher. Helping to exacerbate the problem is the abundance of cheap, industrial strength acid, which is often used for cleaning and burns through the flesh. The number of acid attacks increased 250 percent between 2012 and 2014, and 90 percent of the survivors were women, according to a Make Love Not Scars open letter to the Indian prime minister.

In 2013, an order by India's Supreme Court attempted to control over-the-counter sales of acid, but it is still easily available for about 33 cents a liter, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“We wonder why a litre of concentrated acid is sold cheaper than 9 ml eyeliner," a Make Love Not Scars campaign featuring Quereshi reads.

Niccolini hopes that Quereshi's fashion week appearance will provide powerful, strong and vivid support to those fighting against acid attacks around the globe.

"We can actually stop this thing," she said.

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