Disability in Fashion

The use of ‘zero-size’ models has long been a topic of debate on the fashion runway. There has been increasing calls for ‘stamping of stereotypes’ and greater diversity in fashion [...]

The use of ‘zero-size’ models has long been a topic of debate on the fashion runway. There has been increasing calls for ‘stamping of stereotypes’ and greater diversity in fashion models. In addition to featuring more ‘plus-size’ models, our senior advocacy analyst Poh Sho Siam tell us how more models with disabilities are also being featured in fashion advertisements and shows now.

In 2013, Swiss charity organisation Pro Infirmis created mannequins based on the bodies of persons with disabilities for its ‘Because who is perfect? Get closer’ campaign, to drive home the message that no one has a perfect body.

The mannequins, modeled after the bodies of persons with disabilities including a wheelchair user, one who had scoliosis (a curved spine) and another who had relatively shorter limbs, were put on exhibit in a window display along a popular shopping street in Zurich to gauge the public’s reaction.

Image source: Pro Infirmis’ Youtube video
Screen-capture from Pro Infirmis’ YouTube video.

In one of fashion industry’s most watched events held in February this year, models with disabilities including amputees and users of wheelchairs and crutches were featured. Actress Jamie Brewer reportedly made history in the New York Fashion Week as the first model with Down syndrome to walk the runway.

Image source: Ms Jamie Brewer’s twitter

Ms Jamie Brewer’s tweet during New York Fashion Week.

 Image source: Debenhams

Fashion brand featuring model with disabilities in its store windows and catalogue.

Before this, Aimee Mullins, a below-the-knee double amputee and former paralympic runner, walked down the runway at the London Fashion Week in 1998 in a pair of custom-made carved wooden legs. Kelly Knox, a model born without a forearm, started her modeling career after she won a modeling competition for women with disabilities in the United Kingdom in 2008 and became an advocate for diversity in fashion. On a similar note, former model Angel Sinclair founded a model agency that hires models with disabilities to help them gain a footing in the fashion industry.

More fashion brands are beginning to recognise diversity in the fashion-buying public. People with disabilities represent a significant marketing opportunity and companies are starting to think and respond to this diversity in their branding and showcases. Serving a diverse customer base supports a sustainable business case and is also a positive step towards inclusiveness.

Looking good can help one build up their self-esteem. Emily Davison, who has visual impairment, started her own online fashion and lifestyle blog for persons with sight loss with the aim of bridging the gap between fashion and disabilities. She hopes that what she does will inspire others with visual impairment to explore fashion, find their own unique style and build up their self-confidence.

In Singapore, Team Singapore collaborated with a department store in a fashion parade in 2014. National athletes including Paralympic sailor Jovin Tan promoted the SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games while showcasing the store’s latest collection at the fashion parade. Paralympic swimmer Yip Pin Xiu also modeled for one of the fashion houses in Singapore.

It is encouraging to see more representation of persons with disabilities in fashion, an indication of a gradual change in attitude and a move towards inclusion. It helps raise awareness of persons with disabilities and challenges a few misperceptions of persons with disabilities by portraying their image in a positive light.