One of the biggest compliments you could give the fashion industry is that it can change perceptions. It can be the voice for change throughout the world. Fashion is giving the disabled community a platform for the first time and at last, there is hope, hope that we may just be approaching a level playing field. A change embraced by all in an attempt to bring those with disabilities to the table when it comes to fashion.
It has not been commonplace for brands to put their head above the parapet in this way. It’s an attempt to change the status quo in their area of work. The appointment of a young down syndrome model was just that. A meteoric brand like Gucci defied conventional norms in the knowledge that ultimately what they were doing was right. It could possibly go down as a moment that changed the industry forever. Their Unconventional Beauty campaign is one of the first to feature a down syndrome model.
Ellie Goldstein: a trailblazer
Step forward, Ellie Goldstein. An 18-year-old model from Ilford, Essex with downs syndrome. She is the change the disabled community has waited so long for. To be the first to do anything is a massive feet in its own right but Ellie’s step into fashion is no mistake, this is something she has wanted her whole life.
Modelling for a few years now you can tell that it’s something that comes naturally to her. She recounts her love of modelling in a recent chat with Vogue Italia. In that interview, she said “The best part of modelling is showing myself off to everyone. I love to be in front of the camera and show how professional I am.”
Behind all great moments like this one are the stories that are somewhat overlooked. This is no exception. Gucci and Vogue went further in their commitment to representing disabilities. In the shoot with Goldstein, many of the team were disabled. The photographer for the shoot who is also disabled said: “Half of the team who are behind this shoot have some form of physical disability too.”
The entire ecosystem behind this process is something to behold. It starts in part with Ellie’s management Zebedee who represents models with disabilities. Playing a hugely important part throughout the process by being able to give her a platform. Who in years gone by wouldn’t ordinarily have that opportunity. From here it is the structures put in place by Gucci and Vogue hiring a team in part of disabled people. Then all the way to the top of the campaign with Ellie Goldstein herself. This entire process from top to bottom creates the notion that perhaps for one of the first times in the industry a brand is doing this for more than themselves but instead to spark real social change.
This can only be the start
There have been campaigns and ads in the past where the disabled community have been at the forefront. But they seemed like faceless gestures from companies that were essentially doing it as a one-off and in a tokenistic way. Whilst it’s important to welcome social commentary from big-name brands we as consumers have to make sure that these are done with the ambition to make long-lasting change in the world. Rather than to increase brand reputation and profit.
There is a line from Ellie Goldstein that stood out amongst the rest: “There needs to be more positivity out there and people should give us a chance and not be so ignorant.” Her message is clear and effective. We have to make sure that this is not temporary. We need to press brands to keep putting the disabled community at the forefront of their minds and putting them in the spotlight in all campaigns and ads. Let’s not undo the hard work. Ellie Goldstein had waited 18 years for her break and its paramount that we keep the ball rolling and for more and more brands to use disabled models.
A momentary step in the right direction is one that is ultimately one that is destined to go backwards. The good work done by Vogue Italia and Gucci needs only to be the start of this positive change.