Fashion + Disability

Who Said the Disabled Cannot Have Fashion?

Clothing tends to embody one’s identity and give individuals self-esteem. However, the disabled with physical inconvenience haven’t been able to get adequate choices in clothing. Creating adaptive clothing for them is not only based on the consideration of the huge market potential, but also the performance of the fashion industry caring for human and fulfilling its responsibilities to society.

Physically disabled men have the same basic social functioning as others, they need to dress decently, and deserve their own fashion style, but the market for this group of people hasn’t received enough attention.

Fashion belongs to everyone, even those with disabilities

An American professional fashion model called Jillian Mercado, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, needs to sit in a wheelchair all year round. Although she has a physical disability, in the new wave of models that challenge beauty ideals in the fashion industry, Mercado is an outstanding figure who is keen to fight the lack of representation and persistent stigma of the disabled in the fashion industry.

As a woman with firm beliefs, she wants to change the world. In 2014, Nicola Formichetti (who is the fashion director at Diesel) commented, “She looks great in fashion, and just because she’s in a wheelchair is not going to stop that,” The shoot, with the photographers Inez and Vinoodh, at Pier 54, “was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had on set,” he added. “Everyone was in tears. It was more than fashion.”

After that, her performance also captured the attention of IMG Models President Ivan Bart and landed her a modelling contract with IMG in August 2015. Ivan Bart admired her aura very much and thought that nothing seemed to stop her. The joining of Mercado is a great opportunity for them.

She is a confident, charming beauty. As a result, she gets a large fan base. She always believes that if your will is strong enough, everything in the world is possible.

This also reminds us that when people talk about the diversified development of fashion, they often neglect the disability sector. If so, how can ‘diversity’ come about? In the field of fashion for the disabled, who are currently using their own power to make changes?

Meet the team from Israel

In Israel, there is such a team of four special fashion designers who are developing a new kind of clothing that is not only suitable for the disabled who account for 20% of the world, but also suitable for the rest 80% of normal people. They regard fashion as a way of expression. For those with disabilities, they need to dress like the normal people around them to narrow the gap between communities. This team believes that fashion is for everyone, even those with disabilities.

Shay Senior injured his right arm during his military service, then everything was different for him. He experienced three years of treatment and rehabilitation. He was confronted with one thing when he opened his wardrobe: he realised that half of the clothes in his wardrobe could no longer be worn. So, he started searching on the Internet. Surprisingly, he found that it was either a health product that a fashionable person would never wear, or a fashion brand that provided adaptable products at super high prices.

Later, he designed a questionnaire in four languages and spread it through social media. More than 1,000 disabled people provided feedback on their daily needs. He discovered the problem and co-founded a clothing company named PALTA with Netanel Yehuda Halevi in 2018.

Netanel Yehuda Halevi is a social activist and motivational speaker, wheelchair user due to muscular dystrophy. As chief marketing officer, he organised a survey team to better understand how to make fashion more practical, how to suit those who are in wheelchairs, amputations, and visually impaired people, while also attracting people without disabilities.

Every product designed by PALTA is based on the person’s maximum limit. On this basis, the clothes they designed are also suitable for people without disabilities. This reflects inclusiveness. For example, his problem is buttons, and the team created a solution similar to LEGO. He can iron the shirt with his arm or wrist.

PALTA hired a deaf designer named Michal Gorelick. She and another blind developer help build the company’s website. There is a label on PALTA’s clothes that blind people can scan with their smartphones to learn the size, colour and care instructions of the clothes. They have developed this technology and can add it to any clothing of 240 million blind people in the world, making them completely independent of their wardrobe.

Clothing is a way to express individuality. The right clothes can bring about tremendous changes, not only a person’s appearance but also psychology. Simplifying daily dressing tasks and encouraging independence can save valuable time. By integrating the creativity, life experience and knowledge of different individuals, PALTA can bring more social tolerance.

Is fashion for people with disabilities leading thinking toward positive direction?

People are discussing the diversity of the fashion industry, which is of course a good thing, and the fashion industry also pays more attention to the speech of the disabled than before. However, this kind of discussion is likely to be just an endless loop. Sometimes we may see the news that disabled models have launched campaigns. A burst of heated discussion will follow, and the media will rush to report, but in fact, the disabled fashion has not made much substantial progress in the entire mainstream culture.

When this kind of news appears more and more, such incidents can easily give us a feeling that introducing disabled models is just a symbolic act, and when this kind of news appears more, it’s also hard not to make people question the motive behind the brand doing this. Are these media, designers or advertisements really making efforts for the diversified development of the fashion industry, or are they just trying to catch up with the trend and say empty words and take a form to show the inclusiveness of their brands? This bears thinking about.

Events like Jillian Mercado’s signing with IMG have shown us that things are indeed going in a good direction, and we are also willing to see more of these phenomena. Another interesting change is that designers are now paying more and more attention to this issue. They began to pay attention to how to design clothes to meet the needs of different people. Thanks to these designers who have contributed to fashion for the disabled.

Finally, what I want to tell you is that you are beautiful, please be confident! Beauty really does not require a perfect body. No one can define what kind of body is ‘perfect’!

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