Fairfield fashionista lives on in Project HEAL

Those who knew Kathryn Laudadio could tell her mood based on what she was wearing.

Her closet-full of shoes by Jeffrey Campbell, Dolce Vita and others enhanced a multitude of styles, and rarely, if ever, did she repeat an outfit.
Her eclectic, colorful attire often resonated with other patrons at Las Vetas, the Fairfield coffee shop she’d frequent to write in her free time, says her mother, Lisa Gfeller.

“Imagine someone dressed like Lady Gaga walking the streets of Fairfield,” Gfeller said with a slight chuckle. “If you walked the streets of New York City, nobody would look twice. In a sleepy suburb like Fairfield, heads would turn.”

Laudadio struggled with anorexia and bipolar disorder for much of her life. Shoes and fashion enabled her not only to express herself but also to cope with the issues she was facing, Gfeller says. Despite treatment and a strong support system around her, however, her demons proved too tough to overcome.

Laudadio committed suicide at age 22, two years ago this month. Her family, though, has made it their goal to keep her spirit alive while also helping other fashionistas who are plagued by the same issues she faced.

Earlier this year, her younger sister, Elizabeth Laudadio, discovered Project HEAL, a Douglaston, Queens, nonprofit that offers grants to those suffering from eating disorders who cannot afford the sometimes-exorbitant treatment costs. Recently, Project HEAL forged a partnership with Fashion Project, a Boston nonprofit that accepts donated clothes and resells them to benefit various charities.

Working with the two nonprofits, the Kathryn Laudadio Memorial Shoe Project was born. The goal — raise $10,000 toward a scholarship in Kathryn’s name that could help cover treatment costs for those suffering from eating disorders.

Her 204 pairs of size 7½ and 8 designer shoes — including heels, platforms, flats and wedges — became available for purchase on Fashion Project’s website in late July. As of mid-August, the family had raised $1,600 of the $10,000 goal, which equates to roughly 40 pairs of shoes sold. (Slightly more than half of the proceeds from sales go toward the grant in her name.)

Fashion Project CEO Anna Palmer said Kathryn’s story was inspirational and representative of the organization’s mission.

“Our goal is to change the way people think about clothing donations,” said Palmer, whose organization has received more than 300,000 items of clothing since its inception in 2012. “Typically, they think about a trash bag drop-off at a thrift store, but people don’t realize the impact some items can have on those receiving them. Not only are her shoes having a big impact, but you can see a little bit of Kathryn in them.”

Since not everyone wears a size 7½ or 8 shoe, there are other items listed on Kathryn’s page, including handbags, shorts and pants. Even though most of the other items were not Kathryn’s, proceeds from those sales will also go toward the future scholarship in her name.

According to The National Eating Disorders Association, nearly 30 million Americans — including 20 million women — suffer from eating disorders.

“We’re trying to raise awareness that eating disorders are very serious mental disorders,” Gfeller said. “It’s not about a vanity diet. There are physical consequences that can be deadly, but recovery is possible even if it wasn’t in the cards for my daughter.”

The Greenwich-born Laudadio, a lifelong Fairfield resident, was a vocalist, performer and Gold Key Scholastic Award-winning playwright. After graduating from Fairfield Ludlowe High School, she took courses at Sacred Heart and Fairfield universities. She also wrote a blog to express her love and interest in everything fashion.

As her family prepared to move from Fairfield to Bridgeport recently, Gfeller said Kathryn’s vast collection of shoes — which were stored in several boxes — were much better served going to other fashionistas. They’ll always have a piece of Kathryn with them, though.

“She could go from looking like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in a gorgeous Chanel jacket and very understated shoes to Lady Gaga to Marilyn Monroe to biker chick,” Gfeller said. “She was bold, she was outrageous, she was colorful.”

For more, visit fashionproject.com/myfp/kathrynlaudadio/shop.

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