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How far limited is inclusivity within the Fashion Industry?

Generational evolution has seen many discrepancies within behaviours towards equality issues. Race, neurodiversity and gender identity are all openly discussed issues within generation ‘Z’. Opening up this conversation has allowed many to identify with and appreciate others but is also a form of validation for previously suppressed individuals.

The effects of limited inclusivity

Research shows that when children who are autistic talk about their special interests, their communication, behaviour and social and emotional skills improve. Such skills are essential to integrate into the working world.

The lack of inclusivity affects many who may not even be aware of their condition (it is estimated that 1 in 7 people in the UK (over 15%) are neurodivergent) leading them to believe they’re incapable of not only doing their job but also functioning as a human. In an article published in 2000, Myrna Orenstein PhD found individuals who go undiagnosed exhibit issues with the ‘self’ including “low self-esteem, repressed archaic grandiosity, empty depression, and tendency to extreme shame, and fragmentation states.”.

Now thinking in terms of enclothed cognition, fashion restrictions due to exclusive designs means neurodivergent/disabled people can’t embody the influences, character and emotions they like as easily as neurotypical/able people. As a result, they’re unconsciously being told they cannot be who they want to be. Myrna Orenstein also states: “Clearly, innate deficits influence self-states.”. Personally, without an outfit that makes me feel and look confident, I’m unable to retain my bubbly personality as I get stuck in my head. If I don’t feel I have the body for an outfit, I’ll simply avoid it and stay in denial for as long as possible about wanting to wear it. For an individual who already struggles internally, I can only imagine how it feels to be unable to express themselves due to issues out of their control.

Why is inclusivity important?

Neurodivergent people are being told they don’t belong in a work environment however they may have the most to offer (15% of the world’s population has a form of disability according to the World Bank Group & 20% of people in the UK are disabled – British disability equality charity Scope) with alternating viewpoints, logical rationale, an abundance of creativity and unmatched sympathy. (Autistic individuals are very logical, to the point, don’t fear tough conversations and recognise unconventional patterns.)

Neurodivergent dissimilarity is untapped potential ready to be made the most of in an industry that pushes creativity and innovation for change. It’s a no brainer!

Architect Richard Rogers says, “I learned early on that, when people said something was impossible, I shouldn’t believe them”. ‘Dyslexics must work harder or something along the lines of that is what you hear in school. Neurodivergent are told they’re abnormal so why can’t their skills be too? With such difficulties within the educational system, issues with frustration and motivation arise however this is not necessarily negative in the long run as it builds character, resistance and pushes one to focus on what they are good at.

As exciting as these possibilities sound, they cannot be expressed never mind appreciated, without plans put in place to maximise mental well-being and allow everybody to feel comfortable within the workplace. As a society, we have done well to begin combating inequality within oppressed groups such as people of colour or the LGBT community. Such energy needs to be reciprocated for disabilities.

Disabled & neurodivergent consumers have always existed but due to a lack of support, they struggle to surface their concerns and feel acknowledged. Disabled/Neurodivergent people must actively collaborate in the design process from the beginning as they will be the beneficiaries. Tommy Hilfiger, Paul Smith and Alexander McQueen are all designers with dyslexia. Hilfiger says, “I was embarrassed to talk to my teachers and family about it”. Since no one knows how to help you more than yourself, this is an important issue to be addressed if we are to see change. Having a say within the fashion industry isn’t just down to choosing to do a related course and doing well, but the foundations of education in which neurodivergent differences are appreciated from the beginning.

Certain oppressed groups are easily identified; however, disabilities aren’t always visible, and people soon forget things that aren’t visible. We would never forget our desire for a perfect 6-pack body as they’re plastered all over marketing campaigns and you can see how from a neurodivergent point of view the lack of advertising/representation may feel like a manifestation of shame towards the community. Therefore, neurodivergent individuals need to be trained on how to use their voices so they can speak up for themselves.

People with Autism can find scratchy or stiff clothing intolerable and prefer soft textures like fleece, less seems on clothing and no rough labels. The reason being they are hypersensitive (to the stimulation of their senses) leading to profound limitations on daily tasks. Clothing stores usually smell strongly of perfume and play loud music which causes sensory overload. Autistic individuals would therefore find themselves avoiding such places and feeling left out. Disabled individuals have had to find ways to cleverly utilise abled functions such as zippers, buttons, annoying tags and shoes. Hilfiger also said that “Growing up with dyslexia, I always understood the unique challenges & frustrations that could be faced in daily life”. Such a crushing thought for anybody who is neurodivergent.

What should be done about it?

Brands can influence fashion design school curriculums to root inclusivity into the next generation of designers. Not only would this change inspire a new skill set but it’s the thought-provoking change the disabled community has been looking for. When such considerations are rooted in an industry’s education it acts as a seed, opening new career paths such as a speciality in inclusive design.

Job descriptions can use simplified English to describe and highlight essential skills rather than being long complicated descriptions that some users may struggle to read. Interviews with on-the-spot questions and lots of eye contact can be overloading to the neurodivergent mind. Instead, employers can set tasks and tests to complete at home or any other creative way to communicate strengths.

I believe the extent to which Neurodiversity is appreciated by designers are appreciated others aren’t. It is our education that is disabling individuals. An industry that aims to inspire and influence individuals cannot be selective to the majority. If there is anyone who can inspire people, it is those who have grown up in a world that doesn’t appreciate cognitive dissimilarities despite the hardships faced in daily life.

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