According to the CDC, 26% of people in America are living with a disability – that is 61 million adults. Yet when it comes to fashion, there is a distinct lack of diversity – you will only find a handful of models with disabilities in mainstream campaigns. Often, fashion brands actively avoid trying to represent society, in the same way, that many brands still won’t use models that are above a size 8. In the 21st century, however, it is important to show all sides of fashion – great clothes are for everybody, and they should make you feel good about your body, no matter what shape and size you are. Fortunately, there are a few designers and brands finally catching on that fashion should be completely inclusive.
On the catwalk
Some of the big names in fashion have started to employ models with disabilities for catwalk shows. For most fashion houses, this is where their clothing collections are first shown to the world, so the general reaction can make or break. Vivienne Westwood led the way by employing RJ Mitte, who has Cerebral Palsy for the catwalk. Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in America. It is a condition that happens during pregnancy or birth and affects movement and coordination. RJ Mitte also modeled for a GAP campaign. Other designers have also been forward in showing under-represented groups on the catwalk. Designer Derek Lam worked with the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and sent 18 models with the condition out onto the catwalk to show his collections. He actively wanted to show that function and fashion can be combined.
The big brands
Many of the big brands in clothing are also starting to feature models with disabilities in their marketing campaigns. British model Ellie Goldstein, who has Downs Syndrome, featured in high-profile campaigns for Vodafone and Nike. Ellie was then selected by Gucci to model their beauty products. Jilliian Mercado is another highly successful model that works with the big brands – her first campaign was with Diesel. Jillian, who has muscular dystrophy, has since worked with Beyonce’s activewear break, Nordstrom and Ivy Park. Both Ellie and Jillian are outspoken about disability representation in the fashion industry.
Looking to the future
The fashion industry cannot ignore disability – it affects more than a quarter of the population, and the average shopper is far more selective and savvy about the brands that they buy. Many people are turned off from buying clothing if it is being modeled by size 0 girls – they want to see people like them wearing the fashion. That means that designers and brands need to consider disability from the outset. Agencies like Zebedee Management are leading the way by representing models with disabilities. We now need designers and brands to become far more inclusive in their choice of models, so that instead of there only being a handful of disabled models on the catwalk, there is 26%.
Society still isn’t accurately represented in the fashion industry. It is important that we show the next generation that fashion is for everyone, and then we can change attitudes for the future.