Clones have been the stuff of horror films for generations. Often pictured in a futuristic dystopian world, a world we do not want to be a part of. However, clones are something which surround us in everyday life. Walking down the high street we are surrounded by mannequins – all the same shape, same size suggesting that us as consumers are also all built exactly the same.
However, a wedding shop in Portishead Bristol wanted to break this mould – they displayed a mannequin in a wheelchair in their shop window – and why not, there are currently 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK so why are they not represented.
The fashion industry has for years defined its clothes into simple arbitrary sizes, going up in even numbers from 6 to around 26. There has always been an assumption that every person, every individual shape and unique identity will all fit into one standard body shape as defined by the industry.
No body shape is the same, and this is especially felt by the 20% of the population in the world who have some form of disability. More clothes are made for dogs than those with disabilities, with the rigid size structures routinely shutting out 1 in 5 people.
And it’s not just about the shape of clothes, it’s about the models, the advertising, the campaigns – it has built a world where only body shape is accepted. Wherever you turn in fashion the doors are shut to those with disabilities.
This week marks London Fashion Week, the world-famous annual event sees the biggest designer brands showcase their latest collections. The tagline for the collections is usually bespoke couture – but bespoke to who? The runways routinely under-represent the 1 in 5 people who may have a disability. The industry is shutting out the one community who truly understands the meaning of bespoke.
Self-expression is also a huge part of London Fashion Week and fashion in general. With famous high-street brands including ASOS, H&M and Topshop regularly advertising about the importance of self-expression and individualism.
Yet true self-expression and the ability to assert ones’ own personality comes when we have variety, choice, inspiration; it’s about finding your voice and having the confidence to let your perspective shine. But in an industry full of barriers, disabled consumers are resolutely shut out and denied the chance to adequately participate and express themselves, let alone get the chance to guide creative development and trends.
We need mainstream brands to work with disabled specialists, and we need high end designers to embrace the opportunities presented with their bespoke clothing.
We are beginning to see how these changes can be made, with the start of a movement to make fashion more inclusive – and the societal impact this has.
This year we saw Aaron Philip, originally the first black, transgender and physically disabled model to be signed to a major agency become the face of the Moschino’s AW20 campaign. The model described this opportunity as “such a big deal being a physically disabled person in a campaign like this”.
Selma Blair highlighted the importance of representation from the celebrity world by proudly walking down the red carpet with a cane following her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. British Vogue’s Edward Enniful has shown us the power of inclusion. He recently remarked on the importance in “showing the world as this incredibly rich, cultured place” wanting to ensure every woman would be able to find their place in Vogue.
And the financial incentives are also there. The global market for clothing geared towards physically disabled consumers is expected to grow from $278.9 billion in 2017 to $400 billion by 2026, according to Coherent Market Insights.
We are seeing brands make significant changes to ensure their clothes are more inclusive. Tommy Hilfiger made a splash in 2016 with an adaptive line which includes jeans which allow for prostheses and sundresses which use Velcro and clothes made to be comfortable to those in a wheelchair. Zappos have also released an adaptive clothing line. Including adaptive underwear, clothing in all sizes and easy slip on and off sandals.
Some fashion brands have highlighted disability through their advertorial campaigns. Calvin Klein launched a campaign in May 2020 #ProudInMyCalvins which is focussed on diversity with their models, one of these, Chella Man, identifies as being deaf and speaks openly about this in a video series they ran. Kurt Geiger have also recently launched a campaign with model Benadette Hagans who has one amputated leg.
Designers and brands can increase their market size by 20% if they think about this inclusive design and associated campaigns associated with their brands.
Although this is a promising start it is very much only a start. There are many areas in which inclusive design is simply not considered. Workwear for example is an area which is significantly underrepresented in inclusive design. In the UK, it was reported that 3.9 million people who identify as being disabled were in work this year – yet there are not the clothes to cater for them. People with disabilities are more than capable of working, so why isn’t the industry capable of catering to this need?
The world is slowly waking up to the huge market potential disabled consumers offer. We are no longer living in a world where 1 in 5 people can be ignored – the economic cost and spending potential speak for themselves. We are seeing global shifts in sport, business and the arts – fashion cannot afford to fall behind.
As Aaron Philip said at the announcement of the Moschino campaign “this is the start for more real space for us”. We need the fashion industry to step up and provide the visibility needed for true inclusion. What is seen we speak about and what is invisible we ignore.