Fashion + Disability

An untapped market

Key issue at hand…

Fashion is a universal way for people to express themselves, so there should be no such thing as an untapped market within the media. A key market has been left out for years and it’s time for their voices to be heard. Disabled individuals have a hard time finding clothing that fits to their catered needs. They end up having to purchase ghastly clothing that is not proportionate to their body type. Not only this, but there is a lack of representation in the media. Brands need to take responsibility and begin to cater to the disabled.

What is “perfection”?

Representation is such an important factor in the media because it relays a positive outlook to the untapped market. People with disabilities have to deal with the stigma of trying to hide their disabilities rather than showcase differences. In today’s society, social media plays such a role in the idealisation of what “perfection” looks like. Kelly Knox, a full-time model who is one of the first disabled models to participate in London Fashion Week states, “If non-disabled girls are feeling the pressure to look a certain way, imagine how disabled girls, who can’t hide behind a filter, must feel scrolling through Instagram?” There needs to be a change in how disability is perceived, and the media is the first step.

Adaptive fashion

When we hear the word “adaptive fashion”, what comes to mind? Fashion guru Stephanie Thomas, a disability stylist and founder of Cur8able is taking charge to change the fashion standard. Thomas explains how adaptive fashion must contain three, vital requirements. For one, a garment must be accessible when dressing. Second, it must be medically safe. Adaptive fashion is not a one-size-fits-all industry. Disabilities may require different aspects to each garment so medical needs must be met. Lastly, the clothing should be fashionable. She states, “As a woman with a disability I want to shop brands that are in line with my aesthetic … I like adaptive clothing that’s beautifully designed with disability in mind“. Every group of people deserves the opportunity to be a part of fashion, no exceptions.

Not so niche

Disabled shoppers should not be seen as a niche market. In England and Wales, one in five are disabled. This comes to a whopping market worth of £249 billion. It only makes smart business sense to create more lines for this untapped market potential. The year 2019 proved to be the year of adaptive fashion. Tommy Hilfiger displayed a new line in Fashion Week that featured ten adaptive styles. In edition, Nike launched their Air Zoom Pegasus 35 FlyEase trainers in the UK which allows the wearer to put on a trainer with one hand. Later on, Nike announced a partnership in 2020 with HandsFree Labs Inc, for a hands free footwear.

Working for adaptations in fashion is the first step for change. However, representation in the media is still needed. Gucci made headlines when they made 18-year-old Ellie Goldstein, the face of Gucci’s Unconventional Beauty campaign. This made her the first model with Down syndrome to pose for a luxury brand. This small stepping stone is helping change the stigma of disability and promoting what makes our differences beautiful. With a big fashion house taking the lead to promote models with disability, the future is promising.

The next move…

It is clear that this huge untapped market is in need of some work from fashion houses and the media alike. When representation becomes normalised in the media, it can make all the difference to a little girl or boy in search of another like themselves. Adaptive fashion is not just something that is needed, it must become a requirement. We need to start putting in the effort to cater to every customers needs. Fashion is a form of self expression, and why should the disabled be excluded from this? We must recognise that disability and style are not mutually exclusive.

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