Why Representation of Disability Matters in the Fashion Industry



Representation and inclusivity have always been topics of conversation in the fashion world. Recently, more work is happening within the fashion industry to include previously underrepresented minority groups. Different sexualities, genders, ethnicities and religions have been incorporated more in recent years. However, there is always one group that seems to be left out and underrepresented in the fashion world. For many years mainstream fashion has ignored the disabled community. Only in the last few years have disabled models been featured in ad campaigns and runways.


There are many different types of disabilities, and some are not always clearly seen. Many neurodiversities like Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and Autism have hidden symptoms. In the UK, over 11 million people live with disabilities. With a large amount of the UK population living with disabilities, they need representation. It is essential to ensure the disabled community is represented well in the fashion industry. This representation can have a positive impact on people lives.


Models who represent the disabled community


One of the ways to add more representation of disability into the industry is to incorporate disabled models into ad campaigns, online shopping images and runways. Using disabled models on fashion and beauty campaigns empowers people who live with disabilities and inspires them. Historically, modelling relied on a stringent group of ideas concerning beauty, blonde, white, tall and thin. Many disabled models have come out to say that they struggled to get into the industry due to not fitting into what the industry deemed as beaut. One UK agency decided to change this.

Zebedee is the UK first modelling agency that focused exclusively on talent with disabilities. When the agency started in 2017, fashion and beauty campaigns only featured disabled people 0.02% of the time. Since their launch, they have worked with many notable campaigns centring around adaptive clothing, including the 2018 River Island anti-bullying campaign. One model featured represented by the agency is Ellie Goldstein, who has Down syndrome. She has featured in an ad campaign for Gucci, promoting their colour cosmetics line. Another notable talent at the agency is Renee Bryant-Mulcare, who has paraplegia and uses a wheelchair. As well as working as a model in the fashion industry, Renee has opened a business supporting people who have disabilities.

Many other models have represented the disabled community in the fashion world. Elesha Turner suffered from Parosteal Osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer and now needs a couch to walk. She has most recently modelled on the valentines campaign for the brand ‘Bras N Things’. Jack Eyers is a British model and personal trainer who has a prosthetic leg. He was the first disabled male model to walk in New York Fashion Week. As well as modelling, he is a GB Paracanoe athlete.


Many models also represent neurodiversity in the industry. Nina Marker is a Danish model who has Asperger’s. She has worked for brands including Stella McCartney, Chanel and Dior. As well as modelling, she advocates for the Autistic community. Melissa Koole, a Dutch model, also has Asperger’s. She has modelled for Glamour UK, Coach, Tracy Reese and more during her career.


Why representation of disability is important to the community


Many disabled people never get the chance to prove themselves in the modelling world. Disability remains the most underrepresented minority group, not just in fashion but in the creative industries as a whole. The fashion industry should celebrate disability, with over one billion people in the world living with disabilities. Representation of disability in fashion is essential for many reasons.


Seeing disabled models in ad campaigns and online retail sites can provide a massive boost to people who are disabled. By seeing someone who looks like you, people feel more included and like they matter. When you go so long without seeing the representation of your community makes people feel unworthy and can harm peoples mental health. Providing that representation of disability can have a real positive impact on mental well-being. It helps to inspire people who often feel forgotten and unwanted.


As well as having a positive impact on the disabled community, representation of disability can also help boost the image of the brand or designer. Inclusion and the creation of adaptive clothing can cement a brand within the disabled community. They create an atmosphere where disabled people feel welcome and wanted, which will make people want to buy their products and be a part of their brand.


What more can be done to include and represent the disabled community


Over the last few years, many more brands have created adaptive clothing, creating more inclusion for disabled people within their brand. Tommy Hilfiger created the Tommy Adaptive line, creating adaptive clothing with their signature colours and designs. When they designed this line, to ensure the clothes were functional and fashionable, they worked with members of the disabled community.


The UK brand Adaptawear has been creating clothes with adaptive fastenings for over ten years. They make clothes to help those with arthritis, Parkinson's disease, dementia, and those who struggle with buttons and zip, have access to fashionable and functional clothing.


In 2018 M&S launched a range of adaptive clothing for children who have disabilities. It was the first high street band to launch a range of adaptive clothing. The garments have extra space for casts, pockets for feeding tubes, easy to use fastenings and are all made using soft materials.


While some brands have included disabled models and created adaptive clothing lines, there is still a lot to be done in mainstream fashion. If more large brands create adaptive clothing and use disabled models, the disabled community would feel more included in the industry. They would have access to fashionable, trendy styles. Seeing more disabled models and designers will encourage younger people to pursue a career in the industry.