Fashion + Disability

How the fashion industry ignores disabilities

Dolls Kill are an online fashion brand specialising clothes and styles suitable for the self confessed ‘misfits’ and ‘miss legits’. But recently the brand have found themselves in the firing line of some criticism. From cultural insensitivity, racism and ableism – does the fashion industry do enough to cater to people with disabilities?

Dolls Kill controversy

Dolls Kill reached out to an influencer for a partnership wherein they would send her clothes in exchange for promotion. The woman states they rescinded the offer after realising she is in a wheelchair. Dolls Kill informed her that they didn’t need any more participants and the issue was dropped. It was only when she watched her peers celebrate over getting the same offer did she realise what had happened. Dolls Kill have a website page dedicated to explaining controversies citing. ‘We believe in standing up for what’s right & we commit to coming clean when we mess up’. According to them by the time the influencer had replied they had reached capacity but expressed interest in working with them in the future. Whether or not Dolls Kill had deliberately taken back their offer, it still opens up the necessary conversation. One regarding the fashion industry and disabilities.

Disability erasure

When you think about fashion what is the first image that comes to your mind? A specific model or shop, or maybe a fashion brand. No matter what comes to mind, the intent is blatant. The models on the runway are tall and skinny, the mannequins in stores are able-bodied and small. The Instagram models are what society deems as ‘desirable’ and therefor that is what you should look like. It even became news headlines when Nike featured its first plus-sized mannequin in its London store. But still the erasure of people with disabilities continues. With no mannequins in wheelchairs on shop floors or runway models with invisible disabilities such as autism or depression. How much longer is the erasure of disabilities in fashion going to continue?

Meet Aaron Philip

Alienation is a growing problem in fashion as it does not accurately represent the majority of people who buy clothes. But who are also interested in fashion and the industry. It alienates a diverse group of people who should be represented just as much as able bodied people. Fortunately, there are disabled models who have been able to gain recognition. Specific agencies, such as VisABLE who specialise in finding work for disabled actors, presenters and models. In 2018 black, trans and disabled model Aaron Philip was signed to Elite NYC. The same company who discovered the likes of Cindy Crawford and represent Naomi Campbell and Iman. Aaron gained success and exposure on Twitter and Instagram, citing her aspirations to become a model, and embracing her cerebral palsy. 

‘I enter the fashion world with intentions of making the industry more diverse, inclusive, and accessible. I have never seen a physically disabled supermodel or a Black transfeminine model heralded, celebrated, or even working in the way other models are — and I hope to change that. This lack of representation and visibility in fashion has deeply affected me throughout my life, and has driven me to take matters into my own hands to carve a space and try to provide opportunity for members of my community in this field. And while this might sound inspiring to some, to me it’s simply a matter of showing the world something different, and opening people’s minds — especially in fashion, where there’s a fine line between art and consumerism.’

Aaron Philip

The new generation

But Aaron is not alone in her conquest in changing the hearts and minds of fashion. There is also Jillian Mercado who has worked with Diesel. Viktoria Modesta who performed at the 2012 Paralympic closing ceremony. Chelsea Werner who walked New York Fashion Week. And Mama Cax, who models for Alleles, a company who make stylish prosthetics for amputees. The list goes on and on. Mainstream media might not be ready but models with disabilities exist. They are making it possible for there to be more inclusivity in the fashion industry and opening doors for new, fresh talent. There’s no time to wait around and be discovered, get out there and represent yourself.

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