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Are Disabilities Ignored in the Fashion Industry?

Is the Industry Doing Enough to Cater for Those with Disabilities

Disabilities seem to be ignored in the fashion industry due to crammed shops, an absence of disabled people on catwalks, and a lack of inclusive products. Sporting a complete lack of representation and accessibility for people with disabilities.

Making up 20% of the population, the fashion industry severely lacks the catering for that group of people. Requiring more inclusivity from products to shop lay outs. Disabled shoppers are far from a niche market: nearly one in five people in England and Wales are disabled – presenting a market worth £249 billion.

Although the fashion industry is moving in the right direction in terms of diversity, disabled models are rarely seen. Compared to ‘normal’ models seen in magazines, catwalks and a wide range of adverts.

There is currently not enough fashionable adaptive clothing being provided. For retailers they are ignoring a huge potential market. We are starting to see a number of businesses create adaptive clothing but none are in line with the latest fashion trends.

Specialised brands seem to not be an attractive alternative. With all the lines being plainer clothes, not the in trend pieces they want to wear but simply can’t due to the absence of them being disability friendly.

“Disabled people should be able to express themselves through fashion just like everyone else, but their options can be limited. By failing to take the needs of disabled people into account, brands are missing out on a huge market hungry for variety and choice.” Drapers

Disabled people are largely left out of marketing and promotion campaigns of big brands. But why? They have the capability to do so, so why not make the step? These brands are finding out ways to incorporate the normalisation and ease of their disabled consumers’ buying process.

How Can we Incorporate the Normalisation of Disabilities in Fashion

At the current state of play, there is a massive lack of inclusivity across the board for those with disabilities. Those included have had to alter clothing and their shopping habits in order for fashion to work for them.

One woman born with brittle bone disease, says “The industry needs educating – fast. I don’t want to be defined by my wheelchair and fashion helps people see me first.” Daily frustrations can include buttons, zips, narrow trouser shapes, restrictive necklines, which shouldn’t have to be a struggle. Especially when a high percentage of our population contain those with disabilities.

Visibility in brand marketing generally isn’t enough, they need to start catering to this consumer in as many ways possible. Modelling the core line products is important as its all fine modelling the adaptive range – however, those consumers want them particular jeans everyone is wearing that they can’t. The more access to the iconic items the better.

A particular brand found that most items needed simple modifications to make them wearable for those with disabilities. For example, magnetic closures on buttons. Still keeping the aesthetic look but with necessary adjustments.

Many with disabilities think online and in store shopping is an overall negative experience in fashion. Despite some retailers like Primark and River Island making ‘great strides’ in stores. Sophie Morgan spearheaded the Mannequal campaign which encouraged retailers to include mannequins in wheelchairs. Acting as much requested signs to disabled consumers that this retailer has considered and is attempting to meet their needs. However, more does need to be done to create an equal field.

“If brands want to capitalise on the disabled consumer market, they must first improve representation of disabled people in fashion,” says Tomlinson. “Whether that’s in advertising campaigns or on the catwalk.” The Guardian

Fashion Begins to Include All

Last year, a break through for those affected evolved from popular designer Tommy Hilfiger. He launched an adaptive clothing line, featuring one-handed zips, magnetic buttons and adjustable velcro hemlines.

The company stated “Tommy Adaptive’s mission is to be inclusive and empower people of all abilities to express themselves through fashion”. Hilfiger is the first high end designer to distribute a range to inclusivity of all people. Providing massive hope to the industry, hoping more will follow.

Earlier in the year Aerie, an American lingerie brand – featured women with a range of chronic conditions and impairments modelling their designs. Aerie has also stopped retouching any of their ad campaigns, providing normal body images. Many commented on how refreshing it was to see women with polio, crutches and Crohn’s disease colostomy bag sparking a powerful response. Their community is finally being represented in fashion.

In 2018, ASOS created a water proof jumpsuit made specifically for wheelchair users in mind. With help from para-athlete Chloe Hopkins, aiding them in understanding the clothing needs of those in wheelchairs.

ASOS were applauded for creating an inclusive item of clothing, which itself included adjustable cuffs and a zip around the waist making it easier to get on. Although the fashion industry needs to take more action towards becoming inclusive, this is a good start from a well known brand.

All three companies are really showing their enthusiasm to create a better platform for disabilities in fashion.


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