Where are the disabled models on the catwalk, fashion magazines, or beauty campaigns? Does diversity just stop at gender, race, size, or sexuality? Can you imagine browsing through a magazine and not once seeing anyone who looks like you being represented?
This is the reality young disabled people have to face. No matter how diverse the world we live in gets, and the fashion industries continuous cries for inclusion, it is rare that ability is taken into consideration, even though everyone deserves equal representation in fashion. Have fashion show producers even considered the sensitivities of epileptic or visually-impaired people when designing and setting up the lighting, or stand-only venues which are not wheelchair friendly?
According to British Disability Charity, almost 20% of working age adults in the UK are disabled. Still, disabled people are very much excluded from mainstream fashion topics, in spite of a collective global spending power of over $1.2 trillion. Disabilities come in a variety of forms, and each one demands its specific clothing needs, such as a change in size, fit, or closures.
Once designers, brands, and retailers become more educated about the different types of disabilities and have a deeper understanding of the numerous challenges that these individuals have to face, it will create more effective change and a better representation for all. Not only connecting with organisations that represent the disabled community, but also connecting with the disabled individuals themselves will help to grow and develop understanding and awareness.
Looking ahead to the next generation of design talent and management, it is vital to consider educating them on this important topic; one guest lecturer a year at a high fashion school is nowhere near enough education. Brands do also have some responsibility in this area, as they can help urge fashion design schools to consider the issue more thoughtfully and to include the topic within their curriculum.
It's important to bring disabled voices and opinions into the discussion from the very start. It is best to talk to the customer who will be purchasing and wearing the product and let them give their opinion from the start of the process to the end, in order to get the best results. Brands within the fashion industry should go out and talk to the people they are catering for in order to accomplish a successful project.
Inclusion should also be involved in the context of a successful customer shopping experience as often, disabled people and their non-disabled friends cannot shop together in your average store, which is often due to product segregation.
Visibility of disability in brand marketing just isn’t enough. Brands need to cater to the disabled customer and include them in as many ways as possible. When it comes to retail online, its about making sure that internet communications are accessible to all. More thought should be put into place beyond just advertising an adaptive product on a brands website; ideas such as screen reader compatibility for the visually impaired, should be considered and when possible, implemented.
An independent investigation organised by the British Disability Charity, Scope found that three in every four disabled people have either left the shop or have been abandoned by a business due to a lack of awareness or understanding. One retail workers’ ignorance or rudeness can ruin a disabled individuals shopping experience, and ultimately hinder the customer from buying from that brand again.
In order to result this, shop floor training and education is key to form a better relationship with disabled customers, such as offering assistance to those who need it more. In account of the absence of compassion for the disabled community, it is estimated that UK business has lost out on £420 million in revenue each week as a result.
Leading by example
In 2017, Tommy Hilfiger launched an ‘Adaptive Collection’ specialising in clothes for adults and children with mental and physical disabilities. The clothing was adapted in order to make it easier to put on, whilst making them feel good about it. Every item of high-quality clothing featured clever components such as magnetic closures or one-handed zippers to help every person, whether dealing with mobility issues, limited dexterity, missing limbs, or any other disabilities.
In Fall 2018, they launched an ‘Independence’ campaign directed by James Rath, who was born blind due to Ocular Albinism and Nystagmus, which featured many disabled individuals in the public eye, to encourage disabled people to embrace themselves and be proud of who they are.