Fashion + Disability

It is Time for Inclusivity in the Fashion Industry

Does the fashion industry do enough to cater to people with disabilities?

Over the course of the last few years, diversity and the representation of minority groups has been a pivotal topic within the fashion industry. As a result of this the industry has become more inclusive. There seems to be a conscious effort to diversify brands, moving away from the default of basing and advertising brands only on the appearance of typical Eurocentric beauty standards. This has been attained through the inclusion of a diverse range of models of varying race, gender, and religious backgrounds.

A significant example of this in the industry can be seen through the debut of an event by brand ‘Fenty’. The event included a wide variety of models. From different ethnic backgrounds and a number of plus sized models. Through these models, they project a different, and refreshing to see, type of body standard on the runway. Despite the efforts of brands and individuals to make the industry inclusive, there is still work to be done. Especially regarding people with disabilities, a group who generally receive less focus and are rarely mirrored in the public eye.

There seems to be a reoccurring issue when it comes to the inclusion of disabled models within the fashion industry. It is not that that they are actively excluded. However, they do not feature in brands and runway events as commonly as their stereotypical mainstream body counterparts. Yet even when disabled models are included, this simply is only the start of inclusivity. Showing differently abled bodies should not be a rarity. 

The World Health organisation reports that 15% of the worlds population is classed as living with some form of disability. That is approximately one billion people. As significant it is to see some disabilities represented through brands and runways, this is only the start of inclusivity. It is one thing to include disabled models in events and advertising, but other aspects need to be taken into consideration. This relates especially to the actions of the brands in regard to what they are creating, or how they are adapting their clothing to actually help the average disabled community member.

The adaptive fashion market

The rise of adaptive clothing is something sorely needed. Wheelchair-friendly outfits, easy fasten adaptations such as hooks and Velcro instead of small buttons, flaps in garments for attachments to secure comfortably, and shoes with easy fasten Velcro or zips. These are just a few examples of adaptive clothing items that could be introduced within mainstream fashion. These adaptations could make significant differences to its customer base, allowing more control and independence.

Albeit there are some labels that have started to introduce elements of adaptive clothing into their range. Nike, for example, launched the Air Zoom UNVRS in 2019 (https://www.nike.com/gb/flyease). This shoe was designed with straps that allows it to be secured with one hand, and broad heels that fold down so that the wearer can slide their feet in and out without using their hands. In the US, big brand Target has an adaptive clothing, and affordable, range called Cat and Jack. These items cater towards children who have disabilities or frustrations with regular clothing.

There is also the issue of pricing, in some cases specialised and adaptive clothing costs can be on the expensive side. By doing this, yes, it caters towards others needs but in a way the high price can exclude customers who can not look at these items as a viable option for them. If popular brands start to follow those that have already set this adaptive clothing promotion in motion, this could open up the options and likely bring a more varied price range.

One size does not fit all

This illustrates that fashion is able to adapt to the different needs of the individual. The reality is the industry needs to collectively realise is that there is no “average” person, and the ideology of the ‘standard’ or ‘one size fits all’ is damaging to the image of self-expression and inclusivity the fashion industry claims to promote.

For many, fashion is a prominent way to express the self in terms of personality, interests, and individually. But as long as the fashion world trails behind with its lack of diverse clothing for its disabled customers, it limits this self-expression for so many. With the brands that have joined this inclusivity movement, hopefully more will follow in the coming years. This could lead to an abundance of choice in adaptive clothing that is not only comfortable and accessible, but that also helps the wearer express themselves as they wish.

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