Exclusive fashion, inclusive attitude

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5th October 2017
Disabled models took to the catwalk in the FTL Moda 2015 autumn fashion show in NYC

It has been a staple of the fashion industry calendar for decades, a chance for designers to present their latest innovations to the world, while the who’s who of the celebrity world get ahead in the fashion stakes. Yes, we’re talking about London Fashion Week. 

When the world’s eyes were eagerly awaiting the season’s latest trends at London Fashion Week recently, it got us thinking about diversity and the potential to shake up the glittering world of fashion if there were a greater representation of models that are true to life.

As an organisation, we know only to well that a trip to the high street to check out the latest trends often isn’t without its fair share of challenges for disabled consumers. When we asked our guests to tell us about their experiences of tackling the high street, here’s just some of what they told us:

Many said they had experienced problems with the accessibility of major high street stores, they felt little or no security when paying for items at non-lowered counters with fixed chip & PIN machines and they had even experienced negative or unwelcoming treatment from shop staff!

It didn’t come as a surprise then to learn that almost seventy percent of our guests had been put off visiting the high street, due to a lack of accessibility. And, it seems that our guests aren’t on their own when it comes to experiencing a hard time in even getting a foot in the door of some fashion retail stores.

Writing for The Guardian recently, freelance journalist Lottie Jackson documented her shopping experiences as she took to the streets of one of our capital’s most extravagant areas to shop, Mayfair.

Having experienced poor accessibility on the high street, Lottie decided to give high end brands a go, noting that: “It seemed logical that designer labels, which often shell out millions to create opulent showrooms, would invest in basic equipment for access.” Sadly not.

As is all too familiar a scenario for disabled people, on the whole Lottie was met with physical barriers that prevented her from getting into shops (steps), and ill prepared and equipped staff members.

It’s incredibly disheartening to know that whether they like it or not, disabled consumers are being denied freedom of choice to shop how and where they want, and what’s worse retailers aren’t doing a great deal to change things.

For so many of us, shopping is a social and interactive experience, a chance to express ourselves in the clothes that we choose, to see the garments in real life, to try them on, to see how we feel in them and to come away feeling satisfied with our purchase. In many ways, online shopping just cannot offer the same experience as actually being in a department store, which is fine if that isn’t for you, but the point is there should always be the choice.

Speaking of her thoughts on the fashion industry and what it has to offer disabled consumers, Revitalise’s guest writer Shirley Salzedo commented:

“I love autumnal fashion colours – from florals to rich reds and sage greens. I have a particular interest in fashion as I used to design and produce garments myself. I enjoy following the latest trends, and have found a couple of retailers who I enjoy to shop with regularly.

 All the talk surrounding London Fashion Week got me thinking though – there is most certainly a gap in the market to create fashionable clothing that is stylish and practical for disabled people. And, when it comes to catwalks, it would be great to see a greater diversity of models.

 Fashion is intended to be expressive and I think that in including disabled models, it would do a great deal to help change ideas of not only what it means to be fashionable, but most importantly to show that everyone is beautiful in their own way.”

Disabled models took to the catwalk in the FTL Moda 2015 autumn fashion show in NYC.

It’s worth noting at this point that some fashion designers are leading the way when it comes to embracing diversity on the catwalk, which is great to see and is exactly what we need more of.

Teatum Jones’ London Fashion Week show earlier this year featured model Kelly Knox, who wore garments that flattered and outlined her amputated lower arm. The show was designed to present their disabled models as symbols of a reaction to ideologically formed ideals of what constitutes the ‘perfect form’.

In Lottie Jackson’s aforementioned article, she makes reference to a statement given by designers Catherine Teatum and Rob Jones, in which they offer a particularly poignant perspective:

Imagine telling a group of people that they were not allowed into your retail space because you hadn’t thought it through in the design stage? Or because you simply forgot about them or didn’t consider their spending power? You’d feel pretty awful and so would they.”

 Being turned away from a store would leave most of us feeling red-faced and downtrodden, but the harsh reality is that for many disabled people it’s part of their everyday life, and it’s not acceptable.

Diversity may be the latest phrase to take the fashion world by storm, but designers and retailers need to do much more than simply add the term into their most frequently used vocabulary to make a difference, they need to make real commitments to diversify and change the fashion industry from the roots upwards; otherwise the word of the moment will be no more than empty rhetoric.

Image credit: Frazer Harrison via Getty Images.

Written by Stephanie Stone. 



Stephanie Stone

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