Fashion + Disability

Does Fashion Acknowledge Your Needs When You Are Disabled?

Is fashion really without boundaries?

Nowadays, it might seem that fashion has no boundaries. Most of us can always find what we are looking for in the stores. No matter what our style is, there is always a brand that represents us. When it comes to a perfect fit, not even various body types seem to be an issue. Plus-size and petite clothing line are a firm part of every collection.

Last few years have been revolutionary in terms of diversity and meant crucial changes within the fashion industry. We broke many stereotypes. Plus size fashion or unique models featured in the brands’ campaigns have finally become a more common thing.

But what about the needs of people we often forget about, people with various disabilities? Usually, we do not concern about their requirements unless they are our family or friends. How does fashion reflect their demands and the fact that they are the same as any of us when it comes to fashion and personal style?

Society often sees disabled people as less valued

Only in the United Kingdom, there are millions of people with a different kind of disability. Worldwide it is around 15% of the population. Therefore, including the disability-friendly clothing in fashion collections can be a milestone for brands on their way towards inclusivity.

According to Stephanie Thomas, a Los Angeles-based disability fashion stylist and advocate, in a fashion world, a person with any kind of disability is still not as valued as a person without it.

“You can’t market to people you don’t see, and you just can’t see people that you don’t value.”

Stephanie Thomas

It is not only about using zips or magnetic buttons instead of the regular ones. Even the details and trims such as seems and pockets on the back of jeans might be a cause of discomfort for people on the wheelchair. That is something that fashion stylists often do not consider at all.

To point this and the hole in the market out, Stephanie also founded Cur8able, a lifestyle blog which later turned into business providing styling and consulting. It also works as a platform with the links for purchasing fashion with an adaptive design. Cur8able informs about other brands which are getting more curious about this long time ignored part of the fashion such as Zappos or Tommy Hilfiger.

Overlooked audience got noticed

It was Tommy Hilfiger, who as the first mainstream brand launched a clothing line created especially for people with special needs. Tommy Adaptive, which launched in 2017, uses research workshops to make sure the line is using the newest innovations and is constantly improving. The collection features the innovative stretch fabrics, hook-and-loop closures, one-handed zippers but also garments designed especially for wheelchair users.

2019 was truly revolutionary for adaptive clothing and footwear. It was the year when the industry finally noticed the special needs of a significant part of our society and took them into consideration. Following Tommy Hilfiger, also the sportswear giant Nike played its part and launched trainers designed particularly for disabled athletes. The list of labels that are taking action goes on. London-based lingerie brand Elba, FFORA creating functional accessories for wheelchair riders and Manchester-based company Kintsugi are fighting for an easier and more accessible world.

“The brand is about empowerment – it’s a middle finger to the fashion industry’s reluctance to represent people who fall outside its narrows.”

Emma McClelland, founder of Kintsugi

There is still so much to do

Despite the effort to fill this gap in the market, there is still so much to do to make disability-friendly clothing a proper part of the fashion market. There is an ache for normalization of disabilities in the fashion industry and empowerment of campaigns featuring disabled models.

Adaptive fashion seems to be on the rise, which each of us should support, regardless of our personal need for it. The current situation the whole world is facing is just another reminder of the necessity to stand for each other and support each other in any way.

The fashion industry is no exception. Fashion is part of our everyday life and is supposed to be what makes us feel good. Fashion should be fun, something we can experience, and what can help us to express ourselves.

No one should feel like he has not the same options as the others just because of being a bit different. Having a prosthetic arm does not mean losing a passion for style. Losing the ability to walk does not mean giving up on living life to the fullest.

Fashion belongs to anyone!

Fashion is here for everyone. I am happy to see that people with disabilities have stood out and let the world know they had had enough.

It is great to see fashion brands’ campaigns, catwalks and fashion magazines featuring models such as Jillian Mercado, an American wheelchair user, Down syndrome model Kate Grant or Jack Eyers who wears a prosthetic leg.

These women and men are not supposed to be fighting for their place in the fashion industry. They should have been its part a long time ago. However, they still have to. Now it is up to those who work in the fashion industry to keep in mind what they have already achieved.

Brands have to keep acknowledging the gaps in the industry and trying to fill them. Shall we normalise disability-friendly clothing? Let’s make it a regular part of the fashion. Let’s not be selfish and think about the needs of others.

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