Florida beachwear company features model with Down syndrome for the first time

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Marketing campaigns don't always showcase "the real" and instead, focus on ideal images we're supposed to chase.  But one company is using a different method and hoping everyone else will follow their lead by being more inclusive.

Ethan Holt is at the center of it, and the 16-year-old couldn't fit more into Surf Style's brand if he tried.

“It does feel good to be at the beach, get a tan,” Ethan laughed.

"He loves the beach. He's on the Special Olympics paddleboard team, he's on the swim team, he's a water baby," his mother, Phoy Holt, told FOX 13 News.

The members of Help Us Gather (HUG) worked on pairing Holt up with Surf Style. HUG works to break down barriers for those with special needs, help others be more inclusive, and provide social experiences.

"One in four adults has a disability; there’s not one in four marketing campaigns that features that,” offered HUG’s Robin Lally. “Having our friends represented in media and marketing, not only does everyone love it, they can also be role models for others with special needs, for their families who can look up and say, ‘I can model, I can be a professional, I can do things.”

Ethan's mom admits that hasn't always been easy, especially when they first found out that Ethan had Down syndrome.

“Of course the not knowing he had Down syndrome surprised us and you go through the emotions of ‘You can’t do this.’ The denial. Then the acceptance,” Phoy continued. “Once we were able to get over that hump of realizing he had Down syndrome, it was difficult at first, but now we're just along for the ride and he has taken us along for some amazing journeys.”

That journey has led them to Ethan being a model for Surf Style in their social media ad campaigns.

“We strive to create an atmosphere of inclusion in all of our stores," said Tara Malinasky, Surf Style's marketing manager. "We hope this sets an example for other brands to feature those with disabilities in their marketing efforts, as well."

The photos show a smiling Ethan posing outside Surf Style's flagship store in Clearwater Beach.

"Makes us really excited. Having Ethan show up and just help us with this opportunity to get his face front and center has been really exciting," Lally said.

“It’s a proud mom moment, for sure,” Phoy added.

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