Is the fashion industry finally starting to recognize disability

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Tommy Hilfiger's new line with Runway of Dreams

Fashion is predicated upon being seen. Companies rely on the visibility of their creations to make a ripple in an ocean of constantly changing trends. But as important as it is for the clothes themselves to be seen, it’s just as important for those who wear them to feel seen by designers. And currently, many aren’t: specifically, individuals with disabilities.

Eighty percent of people in the United States are able-bodied, and many of those who are able-bodied take that privilege for granted. When able-bodied individuals think about people with disabilities, we mostly do so in the most obvious ways — the signs of which we encounter in our own daily lives. For example, we think about parking spaces that are prohibited to us because they are reserved for those who are disabled, or wheelchair access that is highly visible in public spaces. We often overlook the minutia of the experience that is more peripheral to our daily routines. Many individuals with disabilities struggle to do things able-bodied individuals don’t even think about, like easily fastening buttons, or using a zipper. These are overlooked experiences that can result in even the process of putting on clothing onerous for many. For such an innately expressive medium, people with disabilities have found an absolute dearth of options when it comes to finding designs that take their experiences into account.

One organization is well aware of the way clothing is overwhelmingly designed with able-bodied people in mind. Runway of Dreams, a nonprofit organization founded by Mindy Scheier, a mother of a child with muscular dystrophy, advocates for clothing designers to create more accessible designs for those with disabilities. In 2016, Runway of Dreams partnered with Tommy Hilfiger to make adaptive clothing for disabled individuals; the line utilizes materials like bungee and velcro, and devices like magnetic fastening, that make clothing easier to wear and adjust.

On April 10, the partnership released a new collection of adaptive wear and rightfully placed differently abled people at the forefront of the rollout. Athletes and activists like Paralympian gold medalist Jeremy Campbell, dancer Chelsie Hill, and blogger Mama Cax graced the advertisements for the spring collection. They modeled clothing featuring magnetic closures and hems, wider openings for prosthetics, side seams, Velcro, and adjustable bungees. Ultimately, the line effectively combined attention to diversity and representation with practical and expressive fashion — hopefully marking a shift in the way clothing brands and fashion campaigns are conceived, executed, and marketed more broadly.

Tommy Hilfiger’s commitment to representation shows an evolution toward an embrace of diversity. It’s been a slow ascendence for the fashion industry toward an overall promotion and inclusion of differently abled persons. New York Fashion Week didn’t see a runway that featured models with disabilities in any significant way until 2015. The fashion industry has often been criticized for its lack of diversity, but the positive reception of this line will hopefully encourage the field to continue to open itself up to a more inclusionary approach to their consumers. Which would hopefully lead to an industry that will eventually include more designers and models with disabilities, as well as promotional campaigns and advertisements that prominently feature differently abled people. This represents an idea that expression via clothing is something that shouldn’t be exclusionary for people with disabilities.

More articles by Category: Arts and culture, Disability, WMC Loreen Arbus Journalism Program
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Kadin Burnett
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
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