There Is More Than One Way To Strut Down A Catwalk

By Aislinn Redbond, posted 16/07/21

We look into ableism in the fashion industry and people who are tackling this issue

Some of the models with disabilities taking part in New York Fashion Week.

Photo source here.

Continuing our examination into the dynamics of discrimination prevalent in the fashion industry, this week we want to look at the promotion of ableism that obscures disabled people from the gaze of designers and consumers alike. In the UK alone, 1 in 5 people have a disability of some form 1 in 5 people have a disability of some form (according to data from 2019), and yet there is limited representation in fashion for this large portion of our population. Disabilities can take a range of forms, defined as a ‘physical, mental, cognitive, or development condition that impairs, interferes with or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain actions…’ (Merriam-Webster 2021). For many people with disabilities, they are faced with challenges arising from the nature of our society being structured towards able-bodied people, and the fashion industry is just one of the many that has failed to dismantle some of the barriers to inclusion. From having wheelchair-inaccessible entrances that physically impede access to shopping, to designing clothes that match only the needs of able-bodied people, fashion remains far from accessible for a large proportion of the population.

Adaptive clothing (clothing designed for wheelchair users, those with sensory sensitivities and other forms of disabilities) has grown as an industry over the last few years. Just as with plus-sized body types, adaptive clothing lines have a tendency to focus on functionality over creativity, meaning that once again it is the able-bodied, straight-sized people who are privileged enough to engage with fashion trends and style experimentation. Though this is slowly changing, adaptive clothing brands remain in the shadows of the fashion industry instead of being ushered into the spotlight. This then has the knock-on effect of diminishing the opportunities for disabled people to engage in fashion marketing campaigns and runways, thus leading to a lack of representation for disabled people in fashion advertising.

Syanne Centeno-Bloom, is a wheelchair-using model working to end ableism in the fashion industry and normalise disabled bodies across all sectors. She has talked openly of the discrimination she has faced trying to book modelling jobs and discusses some of the discriminatory excuses she has heard over the years working in the industry. However, Syanne has made a name for herself as a successful model and advocate, providing some much-needed representation in fashion advertising for those who have disabilities. Her career has proven that fashion is not an able-bodied person’s game, but it has the capacity to open and include people of all shapes, sizes, colours and abilities.

Fashion marketing has begun to acknowledge the ways in which it has failed those who do not fit the able-bodied prototype that has dominated the world of design for so long. More and more disabled models are debuting the haute couture of leading designers such as Carrie Hammer on the runway. More and more designers recognise the positive effects of inclusive fashion lines, with studies proving that inclusivity and diversity makes people more likely to shop. Fashion permeates so many of our daily interactions as we consume it through advertisements on our phones, walking up busy high streets and in choosing our own clothing. It is therefore necessary to engage with more inclusive fashion campaigns that understand the damage caused by exclusion. There is more than one way to strut down a catwalk, and it’s about time we acknowledge it.

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