Inclusion in the Industry

Following BoF500 in September, Hannah Pamplin looks at why disability inclusion in the fashion industry needs to do more than tick the diversity boxes.

People who report experiencing some type of disability contribute a global spending power of over $1.2 trillion per annum, yet they are still very much excluded from the mainstream fashion conversation. Artist Chika at BoF500 laments, “To be inclusive doesn’t mean to point at something and be like ‘that’s different, let’s love it’”, it [inclusivity], “literally means existing”. Those with a disability should be able to exist, as everyone else does, in the fashion world. 

The different/let’s love it approach can result in tokenistic casting, where a brand uses a model for a show or campaign because they chose to use the representation once. If something features in a campaign it should be readily available to the public. As such, a person with a disability should be able to walk into a store and experience the emotional ‘I see it, I need it’ connection, without giving concern to specialised tailoring or unsuitable and exclusive retail environments.

Education through interaction was a point made at BoF500. Collaboration between designers and consumers is what is required so that brands know how to create an adaptive line. “As a society, we are so used to asking ‘Do you have any dietary requirements?’, but we don’t ask ‘Do you have any accessibility requirements?’” says Irish activist Sinéad Burke. Many alterations that are needed to be made are simple; magnetic zippers and buttons or extra material around the kneecaps so fabrics can fall flat for people using chairs, for example. These changes maintain the look of a garment while being ergonomic, ensuring that adaptive lines can still contain brand’s core products and aesthetic. 

Modification needs to be made at a foundational level, starting with education in design schools, so that all-inclusive lines become the norm from the starting block. By including authentic voices, with lived-experiences, true change can be made.