It’s a very exciting time of the year for those in the fashion world right now! It’s finally time for New York Fashion Week, which means in just a few days time we’ll be seeing the hottest new styles and lines from the world’s biggest designers. Fashion week always brings a giddy excitement to fashion-lovers and big questions: Which styles of dresses are going to be the most popular? What are the newest colors for fall? What crazy new fashion is going to be brought into style? What will the A-listers be wearing on the red carpets? All of these things are so fun to think about, but one of the biggest questions we have is this: Who is going to walk the runway? Just 10 years ago, or even 2 years ago, the runway looked very different than it does today. There was, and still is, a very strong blueprint for the models that walk the runway. However, we have made great progress in who we see represented on the runway, and it’s expected to see a huge push for inclusion and diversity in this upcoming fashion week.
A History of Exclusivity
As mentioned before, the fashion industry has come leaps and bounds further than where we previously found ourselves, but there are still great limitations to how we understand what diversity looks like. Often there's a large focus on diversity in gender identity, race, size, and age. But what about ability? Modeling has always been understood as a profession for able-bodied people. There are more opportunities now than in the past for all shapes and sizes, but significantly less for those of all different abilities.
As Emily Farra, a well-known fashion reporter, stated in her piece for Vogue, “In my almost-decade of fashion week reporting, I’ve never heard a designer mention how their collection might appeal to someone with limited use of their arms or how a new trouser would work for someone with a prosthetic”. There are some designers such as Tommy Hilfiger who design specifically for disabled people and there is conversation of the adaptive features of garments.
But clothing doesn’t have to specifically be designed adaptive for disabled people to benefit from it’s design. Many garments are great for those with limb differences or those in wheelchairs without even being designed purposefully to do so. But you never hear designers talk about that because it’s just simply not something on their mind. It’s a trap that most able-bodied people fall into, it’s not something that people consider in their everyday lives. And it doesn’t only apply to the runway or the clothing. Even the accessibility of fashion week events themselves is pitiful. Many shows are standing room only and have no accommodations for those who can’t stand for a long time. There are no wheelchair ramps that go into the shows or transportation through the city that is already incredibly inaccessible.
As Emily Farra states so well, it’s a vicious cycle that traps disabled people into a lack of representation and accomodation.
“It’s a chicken-and-the-egg problem: Because we rarely see disabled people at Fashion Week—on the runway, in the audience, or in the backstage crush—we don’t consider how the shows and collections might relate to them. And because the shows and collections don’t relate to them… we don’t see disabled people at Fashion Week. Thus the cycle continues”.
Because fashion week and these large fashion shows have such a great lack in the representation of disabled people, it grossly misrepresents the makeup of fashion consumers and just how large the need is for adaptive fashion. This is a demographic of hundreds of millions of consumers with disabilities that are in need of clothing that suits their needs.
Disabled people aren’t seen, and so everyone forgets. Representation may not seem like the most important thing, but it kickstarts the entire cycle of representation and inclusion, bringing disabled people into the fashion industry’s conversations. Sure, we have some brands like Target and Tommy Hilfiger that have adaptive options, but it’s also time to see disabled people in the luxury space.
We have lots of questions to be answered throughout NYFW and we can’t wait to see what designers have in store. Our biggest hope? That disabled consumers finally gain the representation and visibility they deserve, so that everyone in the audience watching these shows can finally see the need for designs for disabled people. It’s about time.
Next week we’ll start discussing what we see on the runway and just how much representation we can see in this year's shows, so stay tuned for that! If you want to read more of our blogs you can check those out here.