Fashion + Disability

Fashion and Disability: It’s Time for More Inclusion

Disability can be a sensitive subject. It can come in physical and mental forms and does not discriminate. In the fashion industry, disability is kind of a taboo subject. First thing’s first, it’s not openly addressed as much as it should be. Throughout this article, we’ll explore why in more detail.

There’s also often negativity surrounding disabilities, which is understandable. However, disabilities need to be seen as empowering. For someone to live their life with a disability is amazing and shows their inner strength.

The Paralympic Games is a prime example of how to put a stop to the negative stigma of disability. Each event shows how disabled people have overcome their struggles time and time again. Channel 4’s coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games was nothing short of inspiring. The ‘Meet the Superhumans’ advert sums up perfectly what I’m trying to say; Disabilities often make people stronger than they think.

Catering to disabilities

Disabled people are catered for more now than they have ever been. The accessibility available to them is amazing and takes strides towards creating a more inclusive society. Even something as simple as a wheelchair ramp at a supermarket makes the world of difference. It’s great to see.

Many industries are taking small but significant steps to offer disabled people the most comfortable experiences. The gaming industry is at the forefront of this. The Xbox Adaptive Controller makes disabled gamer’s feel empowered. One of the most accessible video games ever made is The Last Of Us Part 2 with its wide range of accessibility settings. In retail and supermarkets, ‘quiet times’ have been introduced for those with severe autism. And the transport industry has created opportunities for disabled people to travel comfortably and easily.

Disability within the fashion industry

So what about the fashion industry? At first glance, disability in the fashion industry seems to be non-existent. It requires a deeper look. But even then, there’s not much evidence of disability inclusion across the industry.

In 2018, Tommy Hilfiger launched its ‘Adaptive’ clothing line. Items included magnetic buttons, one-hand zips, and velcro hemlines. Their mission “is to be inclusive and empower people of all abilities to express themselves through fashion”. Other disability-friendly fashion retailers include M&S and ASOS, both of which have made strides towards being more inclusive with their clothes. More brands need to follow suit.

As well as this, very few fashion retailers are using or have used more inclusive advertising. River Island uses models with disabilities in its marketing material. One campaign used disabled children to show the company’s stance on diversity and inclusion. Additionally, Derek Lam’s ‘Design for Disability’ movement involved him only using disabled models at a runway show – the first time this has ever happened. Apart from that, there’s not much more to see.

Whilst this is a start for more accessible fashion for disabled people, is it really enough? Why isn’t there more inclusion?

What more needs to be done?

It’s safe to say the fashion industry is well behind the disability inclusion curve. Plenty needs to change.

Firstly, there has to be more consideration in the design of clothes. There are few brands that think about the needs of those with disabilities. Small and simple changes can make a huge difference. Take Tommy Hilfiger’s Adaptive line for example; magnetic buttons, one-handed zips, and velcro make them more appealing and accessible to disabled people. Small changes, big differences.

Liz Jackson is one of the few fashion designers who is designing for disabled people. As a disabled person herself, she considers herself an expert on the matter. She says “there’s not a single company that has invited disability to the table… it still hasn’t occurred to people that disabled people are the experts in disability”. What she says makes sense. Why don’t firms use disabled designers to create accessible fashion? They are the experts after all.

Additionally, more representation of disabled people across the industry is needed. Whilst we have seen a handful of brands supporting the inclusion of disabled people in fashion, it’s simply not enough. We need more representation on runways and in adverts. There are plenty of disabled models and modelling agencies!

The more disability in fashion, the brighter the future

More inclusion would be a much-welcomed change to the industry. With the whole world as we know it striving towards a more inclusive society, the fashion industry should take the opportunity to follow suit. It’s no secret the industry has come under fire for its handling of diversity and mental health. So why not spark a brighter future for the industry through disability inclusion?

This is just my opinion on disability in the fashion industry. For another perspective, check out the BBC Sounds Podcast on whether the industry caters to disabled people. It’s very insightful and shows the perspective of a disabled fashion designer!

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