The fashion industry is known for its ability to exclude non-traditional appearances and experiences, especially when it comes to individuals with disabilities. With recent social pressures to highlight diversity and inclusion, we're witnessing first-hand a change in the industry where disability inclusion is beginning to be taken more seriously by mainstream brands. While this is certainly just the beginning and there is still ample work to do, here are 7 great examples of disability fashion inclusion over the last few months.
Journalist Belle Bakst recently sat down with Natalie Trevonne, a designer, writer, actor and dancer, who speaks to her relationship with fashion while being blind. In Belle and Natalie’s Cosmopolitan article, Natalie shared her vision loss journey and the misconceptions she faces as a blind woman who loves clothing. What might surprise many, is that "[she] never loved fashion until [she] went blind".
Natalie co-hosts the podcast, Fashionably Tardy, with fellow visually impaired fashionista Melissa Lomax where they talk about who is killing it in the fashion industry and the latest trends they’re currently obsessed with. Read Natalie's Cosmopolitan article here and be sure to follow her on Instagram @natalietrevonne.
“When I’m not looking for anything in particular, I feel like the possibilities are endless. Or at least they would be, if brands provided more access for people with disabilities. We often aren’t able to experience shopping websites the same way non-disabled people do.” - Natalie Trevonne
Known as the biggest night for Canadian fashion, the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (CAFA) was not only filled with glitz and glamor, but beautifully showcased the importance of diversity and disability representation. Our favorite moment of the night was when Izzy Camilleri, Canadian fashion icon and founder of IZ Adaptive, won the prestigious Fashion Impact Award. Izzy has been leading disability representation and inclusion in the fashion industry since launching her adaptive wear line in 2009. More recently, she created the world's first pair of jeans that are wheelchair-friendly. Aille Design founder and Braille Fashion Designer, Alexa Jovanovic was honored to attend the event. Izzy is the first adaptive fashion designer Alexa learned about during her university studies and it was a huge personal milestone for Alexa to officially meet her in person.
Double Take fashion show took place at NYFW with the goal of having audience members to do a “double take” of how the entire experience was fashion-forward while simultaneously maintaining full accessibility. The first-of-its-kind event was created by biotechnology company Genentech and accessible design non-profit Open Style Lab (OSL). OSL is an organization that has been redefining what it means to make fashion accessible for the disabled community since 2014. Double Take featured 11 individuals with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and four non-disabled family members who made their runway debut! The models collaborated with six Open Style Lab design fellows to create looks that are both functional and stylish.
“This fashion show is all about showing that function and style can go hand-in-hand. They’re not mutually exclusive,” - Shane Burcaw, a Double Take model
Other NYFW runway shows with a range of diverse models included Studio 189, Collina Strada, Foo and Foo, Guvanch, and Hester Sunshine. One of the models in the shows was Bri Scalesse, a trailblazer in the modeling industry who is regularly being cast in fashion media and runway shows. Bri became a wheelchair user after experiencing a spinal cord injury at the age of 6 from a car accident.
“This season, I saw more brands put more visibly disabled models on their runways than ever before. But with one in four [Americans] being disabled, we are still massively underrepresented on the runways, and the audience spaces are still mostly inaccessible.” - Bri Scalesse
Runway of Dreams hosted their 7th annual one-of-a-kind adaptive fashion show during NYFW, which was hosted by Peleton’s first adaptive instructor, Logan Aldridge. The show, titled A Fashion Revolution, featured over 60 models with varying disabilities and backgrounds from brands like Kohl's, Target, Zappos.com, JCPenney, Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive, No Limbits, and Stride Rite. Our very own Hayden Zaller, a visually impaired actor we worked with for American Underdog, even made his runway modeling debut at the event! The Runway of Dreams Foundation is a nonprofit organization leading the charge on inclusion, acceptance, and opportunity in the fashion industry for people with disabilities.
“The fashion industry is listening, and we are honored to help present these brands to the massive community of potential consumers," - Mindy Scheier, Runway of Dreams' Founder and CEO
Blind Beginnings hosted the Limitless Beauty fashion show in Vancouver. Models consisted of all young adults with visual impairments. Each participant had full freedom is choosing what they wanted to wear for the show. We are so honored that model Aly reached out to wear the Aille Design Blue Dress, a dress featuring 2,685 braille beads that describe the color blue from the perspective of ten visually impaired women. Aly and the braille dress were selected to be the final runway look of the evening and closed the show. A documentary about the fashion show was filmed by Accessible Media Inc and will premiere on AMI tv in Spring 2023.
Blind Beginnings is a Canadian organization that supports children and youth who are blind or partially sighted and their families through diverse programs, experiences, counseling and peer support, and opportunities to create fulfilling lives.
"We did a fashion training camp this summer to prepare the models. We have nine youth who are participating and brought them together for three days and talked about how do you develop your style if you're blind and you can't see. How do you know what's in style? What are the different styles? We literally passed around different kinds of shoes and they could feel what is a sling back? What is a wedge heel? What are all of these things? If no ones ever taught you, how would you know?" - Shawn Marsolais, Executive Director at Blind Beginnings
Wuxly Movement and Koolway Sports partnered to design the Crawford Parka, a new adaptive parka designed especially for people who use wheelchairs. Koolway Sports is known for designing and manufacturing clothing for all ages that is comfortable, warm, and tailored to individuals with mobility issues. Made with recycled polyester from post-consumer plastic bottles and animal-free insulation, the Crawford Parka is made in Canada and designed to withstand temperatures as low as –25°C and –13°F.
"Inclusivity is something we wear on our sleeve at Wuxly and our collaboration with Koolway enhances our inclusive abilities by servicing the wheelchair community. The Wuxly x Koolway Parka is made with every necessary feature in mind and goes beyond to ensure an awesome dressing experience." - James Yurichuk, Founder of Wuxly