WHY FASHION MUST ADDRESS THE PEOPLE OF DISABILITY

Fashion, the term can be subjective, it can be inclusive and exclusive but for most people fashion is synonymous with luxury, haute couture and tall, thin models. However, another definition could be a rendition of what happens in the society and what needs to be portrayed, fashion has become another form of communication, converging the ocular with the activism, with the creation of identity. Fashion in this definition becomes more than what is to be adorned but rather why should I adorn? Fashion becomes a mode to understand what the brand speaks and tries to convey. Fashion becomes a form of self-identification, a way of expressing ourselves to the world.

Over the years fashion was for the rich, white and thin. But since a few years ago it has moved past that, it has become inclusive, models from various ethnicities and races are given the chance to walk the ramps, not just the races but even different body types. Ashley Graham is one of the foremost speakers on body positivity, her views on bringing models of all shapes and sizes has landed her on ramps of many coveted luxury brands. But there is a section that lacks representation, rather mainstream representation, for this section fashion must become universal, catering to everyone: the section of the disabled.

Disabilities, mental and physical, have long been identified as a human shortcoming: crutches, wheelchairs and other aids have been seen as symbols of limitations and restrictions. However, the question is: should the people of disability be treated so sub-human that their basic and most fundamental right of expressing themselves be taken away from them? The world today has a whopping fifteen per cent of its population as disabled. This means a very significant part of population lives with no proper of way of expressing themselves. At this point in time, the disabled have a combined spending power of 2.1 trillion dollars and when their families and caretakers are taken into account the amount triples to a whopping 6.9 trillion dollars.

But then why is it that this gold mine still remains untapped? Why is the world of fashion not looking at the people of disability to have the services that an able-bodied human does?

“Why is it not possible to just have a fashion industry that caters to the different spectrum of abilities that exists within society?” says Sinead Burke to Business of Fashion.  Her question is valid. Why should there not be sections in retail stores catering to the needs of the disabled? Sinead Burke, one of the foremost voices of the disabled people, gave an explosive TED talk that reminded us of our shortcomings, why must a disabled person work so hard for the choices that an able bodied human takes for granted?

The universe of fashion in this sense does a grave injustice to those who are disabled. The runways lack models of disability and often the little people have to go the kids section to find clothes for themselves. The lack of representation is astounding. Are the people of disability not a part of the mainstream?

Tokenistic representation also happens to be a matter of talk here, why must a brand represent the people of disability only once? Why should disability be a flavour for a season?

The controversial Interview Magazine cover featuring Kylie Jenner illuminates yet another dark side. Should wheelchairs and other aids for the disabled be seen as limitations? The cover featured Kylie sitting on a gilded wheelchair explaining her limitations symbolically but are wheelchairs really limiting in nature? “For me, a full-time wheelchair user, my wheelchair does not represent limitations and restrictions; it represents freedom,” writes Karin Hitselberger on her blog the Claiming Crip. The imagery constructed by the society of a person in wheelchair or crutches is that of inducing pity, dependency and sub-human attitude. Most retail stores today don’t have ramps for the facility of people on the wheelchair nor are their clothes made for them specifically.

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Things are however changing, brands like FTL Moda are featuring models of disability on the ramps, Business of Fashion’s cover girl happened to be Sinead Burke, London Fashion Week in the year 2017 featured disabled models! But is that really enough?

Introducing BoF’s new special print edition ‘The Age of Influence’ featuring cover stars @thesineadburke and @kimkardashian. Today, anyone, anywhere can attract a following, promote a brand, build a business — and effect change. Some of you may have first come across Sinéad Burke, a three-and-a-half-foot activist for disabled people, following her barnstorming talk at #BoFVOICES in 2017. Since then, Sinéad has used her newfound visibility to build awareness around a cause informed by her own lived experience: designing for disabled people. With her irresistible charm and natural eloquence, she’s influencing an industry that has long shut her out. The ‘ne plus ultra’ of the influencer economy is undoubtedly Kim Kardashian West. With hundreds of millions of social media followers tracking her every move, she has become a new kind of global superstar, one who is willing to bare all and share all. In an exclusive interview, BoF explores how she has leveraged it all to build a beauty business that could generate an estimated $100 million in its first year. Learn more about our latest print edition now on businessoffashion.com [Link in bio] To get your copy: Subscribe now to an annual #BoFProfessional membership to receive the issue, or pre-order your copy directly on shop.businessoffashion.com Photographer: Tim Walker Stylist: @nikhilmansata Makeup Artist: @lucyjbridge Hair Stylist: @shonju

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One cannot wear clothes straight of the runway, maybe it is time that retail took things mainstream.

Tommy Hilfiger introduced their collection on adaptive clothing recently, using Velcro, magnets and adjustable hems to create a collection that can be used with ease by everyone. Move ability clothes by Murielle and Joe Ikareth based in Kottayam are another example of how the world of fashion is steadily moving towards inclusivity. Brands like ABL jeans are making denims for those who use wheelchairs! The change is steady and slow but an action is being taken in the direction.

The idea of fashion has to become more inclusive, more and more brands need to reconsider their approach towards humanity and decide for themselves if they would like to extend their services to the disabled. And the decision should be conscious and permanent as well, online services need to be started to cater to the requirements of the people of disability, retail stores need to introduce ramps and little people shouldn’t have to wear jeans that bunch up at their ankles and nor should they turn to kids stores for their requirements.

The mainstream media too should use online campaigns actively and feature people of disability in them, not because they cater to disability but also because they are humans too and should be given a fair chance just like an able-bodied individual is!

It is high time that these demands of the different-abled are listened and brought into consideration, an opportunity to express themselves and simply be fashionable!

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