Over 1 billion people of the world’s population are diagnosed with some form of disability. Almost 20% of working age adults in the UK are disabled, according to the British Disability Quality Charity Scope. Yet despite this, disabled people have long been ignored and excluded from the fashion industry.
The fashion industry might be quick when it comes to trends, but it is slow to represent people of different abilities. Disabilities come in various forms which can demand several specific clothing needs, such as adjustable waists, one hand zips, magnetic closures, and extended openings. For example, buttons can be difficult for those with dexterity issues and regular cut trousers can be unsuitable for wheelchair users as they ride up when seated.
Even though, some fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and River Island are slowing adapting to become more diverse to the disabled community there is still a need for other brands to be more inclusive to the community.
Here are three things brands should consider to become more inclusive of the disabled community:
The importance of education
Once the fashion industry and the brands educate themselves about the different forms of disabilities and acknowledge their challenges that the disabled people face, it will allow them to make a meaningful and impactful change to the industry and also to the disabled community.
Brands can educate themselves by connecting with the disabled community and speaking to individuals this will allow them to create more understanding and awareness. Having an open conversation about the individual’s needs in clothing and what they would like to see from brands will allow brands to create an honest collection.
The target audience
Brands must involve the disabled community throughout the whole process and allow them to be involved from the design stage to the marketing as they can give their lived experience most authentically, which helps give the brand the best guidance in how to avoid mishaps.
Brands must communicate and involve their target audience as it will show consumers that they care about the community and are not just making a collection to avoid viral outrage and remain relevant.
Let’s talk inclusion!
The visibility of disability in brand marketing isn’t enough. Brands should create products that can be used by both disabled and able-bodied people, rather than separate ranges, whilst also including a variety of people to model in their campaign as brands need to get away from the ‘norm’ segregation.
Disables individuals don’t want different jeans, they want the jeans that everyone else is wearing. Many clothing only requires simple product modification such as adding magnetic closures whilst also leaving buttons for aesthetic purposes. This easy solution can make a world of a difference to the individuals getting dress routine.
Inclusion should also be considered in terms of the consumer’s shopping experience. Often there is product segregation in stores meaning disabled people find it difficult to shop with their non-disabled peers. Brands need to evolve the sectioning and include it into the whole other store collection rather than separate as shopping is an emotional experience as well as a social experience. Disabled people’s shopping experience shouldn’t be different from able bodied people.
The experience shouldn’t be any different when it comes to online shopping. Brands should consider a screen reader compatibility for the visually impaired, with voice technology, there should be a lot more that’s accessible for the community – again – another simple solution will allow the disabled community to feel accepted in the fashion industry.
The need for change
High street brands have diverted in a more inclusive direction from changes in their advertising campaigns and clothing lines. River Island has adapted to a pro-diversity campaign, ‘labels are for clothes’ which resulted in their campaign including models of different genders, sexualities, ethnicities, religions, sizes, and disabilities in both their adult and children adverts. Tommy Hilfiger has taken a step further and launched adaptive clothing ranges designed for adults and children with physical and mental disabilities. The brand has involved the disabled community throughout the whole process allowing them to be involved from the design stage to the marketing. Tommy Hilfiger has opened the eyes of people in the fashion industry, as many brands on the fashion spectrum are beginning to realise there is a wide audience waiting to be catered for.
Often in fashion, diversity of disability is superficial but the fashion industry must understand that diversity is not a trend, and there is more work to be done to acknowledge and address the barriers. Although some fashion brands are adapting to become more diverse there is still a need for better representation and change in the fashion industry.