Fashion + Disability

Does the Fashion Industry do Enough to Cater to Disabled People?

The concept of the runway has been around since the 1900s. Over time we’ve seen thousands of different looks exhibited for all seasons and hundreds of designers showing off the most exciting developments in fashion. However, we have seen a lack of inclusion of all body types being displayed during fashion shows. It’s now 2020, yet disabled people still remain unconsidered in the majority of the fashion world.

What we’re doing is not enough

It’s great that we’re moving forward in terms of inclusivity, however the representation of disabled people on the runway is still not mainstream. Again, we have seen some changes in that disabled models are starting to be included on runways, namely Kelly Knox and Jack Eyers being featured at London Fashion Week in 2017. However, able-bodied people are still the majority shown on runways across the globe. Yes, we are seeing changes, but these changes need to be more drastic. Not only should disabled bodies be appearing on more runways all over the world, they should also be featured on clothing websites and billboards that are currently only showing able-bodied people.

Models with disabilities are still excluded from more mainstream runways, and this translates to the wider world where disabled people face exclusion and discrimination because their disability is seen before the person. Representation is important, shown when Kelly Knox interviewed Catherine Teatum for an article with the BBC, where she stated that “That’s something another young girl with a disability who’s aspiring to be a model can think, ‘wow, she’s doing it. Maybe I can do it too.’ You don’t see that imagery enough.” I reiterate; representation is so important for everyone to feel included, no matter who the person is.

What about those with other types of disabilities?

What about those who have mental disabilities that require their clothes to fit or feel a certain way? These types of disabilities have been largely ignored in the fashion world, but recently Target have released an adaptive line of clothes for children, designed by the mother of a child with special needs. Smithsonian Magazine reports “The clothing comes without tags or seams, a boon for children who find new textures irritating. Body suits are easy access for diaper changes, while wheelchair-friendly jackets have side-openings and zip-on sleeves for easier dressing. This year, the company added lines for adults with physical and mental disabilities as well.” These are exciting and important developments in the fashion industry and are paving the way for other brands to follow.

Paving the way

One of the brands trying to be more inclusive is the lingerie brand Aerie. They recently launched their #AerieREAL campaign where their lingerie was modelled by a range of women with various conditions, including women in wheelchairs and with stoma bags. It’s refreshing as a consumer to see the industry adapting to the times we live in where different bodies are becoming more accepted. The way brands like Aerie have adapted their campaigns to fit with the times is empowering to everyone, showing that no matter who you are, you are still valued and worthy of inclusion. I know many people who loved Aerie’s campaign – both able-bodied and disabled. It is great to see so many people on board with such an important and revolutionary campaign and I hope this paves the way for other brands to start doing the same in the future.

We have seen a few other brands make some improvements in terms of considering disabled bodies, for example with the Tommy Hilfiger x Zendaya collaboration that brought ten pieces of clothing that are adaptable for different disabilities. This is one of the first clothing lines to be so inclusive and considerate of the challenges that the combination of disability and fashion bring.

In 2019, Nike released the Air Zoom Pegasus 35 FlyEase trainers which have, like the Tommy Hilfiger x Zendaya collection, started to change the way we think about clothing and the types of necessary requirements disabled people need. These requirements often have to be approved by medical professionals to make sure they are designed and made to accommodate various disabilities, which can be a challenge for clothing brands, but is well worth it if it means everyone feels considered.

Is the fashion industry accommodating enough?

Disabled people still aren’t accommodated enough in the fashion industry. We have seen improvements within the industry but we still have a long way to go in terms of representing everyone fairly on runways and in campaigns. I hope fashion brands soon start to design clothes to fit people with disabilities, as fashion can be a way to express yourself which everyone should be able to do.

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