Fashion + Disability

Are Brands Ignoring The Needs of Those With Disabilities?

For all the positive changes that the fashion industry is making in terms of diversity, there are still changes to be made for the groups of people who still lack visibility. There are currently 13.9 million people living with disabilities in the UK alone. Due to the lack of representation of people with disabilities in the workforce, media, and fashion industry, this figure goes unnoticed. As a consequence, there is much to be addressed in the fashion industry for this dynamic and vibrant community to make steps towards inclusiveness.

The industry has grown massively in terms of diversity, designers and brands have become more conscious of body types, skin colour, and gender. But why is there still so little visibility and accessibility for people with disabilities? Disabled models are rarely seen on catwalks, magazines, or in advertising. This can cause people with disabilities to face obstacles when shopping, not only finding clothing that fits well but also stylish and quirky. Catering to people with disabilities in shopping centers and stores can be very limited, why is this still a problem to be tackled when the percentage of 19% of adults have disabilities? Why are basic needs still not being met?

The limitations to shopping with disabilities

A vast number of fashion brands do not offer many options for people with psychical disabilities, this reflects society’s ideal body types, the body types that strut the catwalks. Why are designers making clothing with one body shape and criteria in mind? Why is anything but society’s expectations of body types forgotten? This not only creates a false image of beauty and creates false role models, but it also is not accessible to those that do not fit into a size XS-XL.

‘‘For so long we’ve had to alter and change clothes and our shopping habits”

Mary Russel, Fashion Designer

Fashion is meant to be empowering, yet when it is not only difficult to find brands and shops that cater to people with disabilities, and different body shapes, this is a problematic for many. The limited shapes and sizes, restrictive necklines and narrow trouser shapes create daily issues for those that do not fit the ‘norm‘ physical shape that most designers focus their brands. The restricted amount of shops and brands that cater to people with disabilities can certainly lead some to feel disheartened as the industry is not there to serve all.

The brands that are moving in the right direction

However, there are some designers taking a leap in the right direction when it comes to inclusiveness. In 2014, American Eagles loungewear and underwear brand Aerie began the #AerieREAL campaign. The brand was ahead of its game when it comes to diversity. The mission of the campaign was to commit to stop airbrushing photos, promote body positivity and encourage others in the industry to do the same. The brand selected a group of ambassadors who are called ‘Role Models’ who represent ‘real women’. The Role Models are women on a mission who ignite change in the face of society’s stigma around people with disabilities.

“As a team, we follow and connect with influential, real women across social media, at industry events, and by listening to our customers. Our Role Models represent social causes that are important to our Aerie community and the issues that impact their daily lives. We have open conversations with our customers around who and what inspires them. The Aerie community is diverse, so it’s important to be representative of the different backgrounds and beliefs of our customers to ensure they feel their voices heard in everything we do.”

-Jennifer Foyale, Aeries Global Brand President

#AerieREAL is a influential and powerful campaign that is ahead of many in the industry! It has been successful in authentically representing those with disabilities and raising awareness of the struggles some face in the fashion industry. The lingerie brand is at the forefront when it comes to inclusive fashion, in previous years they brought on a gold medal Paralympic snowboarder Brenna Huckby and blind Youtuber and motivational speaker Molly Burke. Recently, the brand has took that extra step and have launched a collection that includes ostomy covers and insulin pumps, the designs are even more inclusive for those with medical needs. This is set to empower and give confidence to all with physical restrictions.

Many other lingerie brands are working towards being conscious of all body shapes, there is a long way to go. Savage X Fenty, ThirdLove and AdoreMe are all brands that are striding towards diversity, however they too often miss out on being inclusive to those with disabilities. I think that it is also important to note, due to brands that are accessible for those with disabilities being very limited it is very unlikely that it is easy to find inexpensive brands. Why is shopping an easier, cheaper process for some and not for others?

The lack of access is very limiting to many peoples daily reality, high end fashion is slowly taking notes from the right books! Last year designer, Tommy Hilfigire launched the adaptive clothing line. A huge brand, that many of us are familiar with, can signal hope that their is change in the industry and designers are finally tapping into this ignored market. ‘Tommy Adaptive’s mission is to be inclusive and empower people of all abilities to express themselves through fashion,’ the company stated. The designer achieved functional clothing for many, through the use of magnetic buttons, one-handed zips and adjustable velcro hemlines. This is a significant moment for high-end fashion.

Although I have just named a few brands that are moving forward with inclusive fashion, many fast fashion, high end fashion and luxury brands ignore the needs of people with disabilities. Many designers need to take a note from their books. The brands that are shining a spotlight on diverse fashion, this can give us hope for the future of fashion. Finally, we are moving towards a celebration of everyone, a celebration of difference and a celebration of unique, beautiful bodies- that should not have to struggle when finding a perfect outfit!

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