Powerful. Aspirational. Chic. From runways to galleries, stadiums to television screens, a vanguard of Disabled talent is changing perspectives and evolving industries.
In recent years, the fashion industry has made notable advancements towards inclusivity with the emergence of the body positivity movement and the representation of plus size models. Commendable; however, it is crucial to note that inclusivity shouldn't be limited to factors such as skin color, gender identity, age, and size. Despite the recent groundbreaking British Vogue cover overseen by Edward Enninful, which prominently featured disabled models like Ellie Goldstein and Selma Blair, who courageously battles multiple sclerosis, it is important to acknowledge that disability is still widely regarded as a taboo within the fashion industry.
Inclusivity shouldn't be limited to factors such as skin color, gender identity, age, and size.
The impact of fashion should not be underestimated. When fashion brands break down barriers and advocate for inclusion, their efforts have a profound effect on society. A significant milestone in the realm of female empowerment was achieved in 1966 when YSL presented the first female-specific tuxedo. This groundbreaking move showcased the brand's commitment to empowering women. Fashion shows, in particular, serve as a platform for designers to exhibit the diversity they envision both within the industry and in society at large. However, the representation of disabled individuals as consumers and models within the fashion industry is severely lacking. Surprisingly, despite comprising 15% of the global population (1.3 billion people), individuals with disabilities represent only 0.02% in fashion and beauty campaigns.
By increasing the visibility of models with disabilities, we can challenge this taboo and break stereotypes. This will prove that beauty is not limited.
Some select brands have made strides in this field. These specialized garments accommodate individuals with motor difficulties and cater to the unique needs of those with autism. IZ Collection, founded by Izzy Camilleri, was the first brand to address the clothing needs of wheelchair users. Their innovative designs aimed to provide comfortable and stylish adaptive clothing. Other brands like Abilitee and So Yes joined this movement. Luxury brands largely overlooked this market until Tommy Hilfiger introduced the Adaptive Collection. Inspired by his daughter with autism, Hilfiger launched this collection for children with disabilities in 2016. Despite these positive advancements, the integration of adaptive fashion into the mainstream still faces hurdles.
For Colina Strada’s SS21 collection, wheelchair models Emily Barker and Aaron Rose Philip starred on the runway. Aaron continued to star in multiple seasons of Collina Strada’s shows, stating in an interview their appreciation for being understood and appreciated for their talents. Founded in 2014 by Hillary Taymour, Collina Strada is a New York based brand focused on social awareness and self-expression. The brand's commitment is reflected in its selection of models, including transgender, non-binary, and disabled individuals. However, many brands cast models with disabilities as token representation, criticized as mere marketing strategy. In 2019, Victoria’s Secret faced backlash for their stereotypical and sexualized portrayal of the female body, prompting a sudden shift to claim inclusivity. In 2022, they launched the Love Cloud Collection, featuring Sofia Jirau, the first model with Down’s syndrome, along with Miriam Blanco, a model with a physical disability. However, true inclusivity requires consistent representation of models with disabilities across all campaigns and collections.
Models with disabilities worry they are chosen based on a brand's virtue signaling and quotas, rather than their abilities and work ethic. Some started in fashion through "special" projects like "Models of Diversity", a charity promoting diversity in everyday models. Not all disabilities are physical or noticeable. Autistic model Nina Marker has walked for luxury brands like Dior, Valentino, Givenchy, and Versace. She gained fame through her role in Maneskin's 'Supermodel' video.
The disabled community's voices and faces are not fully heard. Their appearance on the runway creates a stir, highlighting the revolutionary nature of their presence. Despite some progress, inclusivity in fashion is still lacking. Fashion Weeks should make it the norm for disabled models to walk alongside others, not just an exception.