'We’re not treated the same when we go into stores'
By Melissa Singer, published on 7 July 2018, The Sydney Morning Herald
'We’re not treated the same when we go into stores' ... disability advocate, writer and speaker Carly Findlay.
On the issue of diversity, the fashion industry has been talking a big game for years.
And yet, amid all the progress regarding size, gender and ethnicity, disability advocates are often left feeling excluded from the conversation.
"Disability is ... being shown [on catwalks] overseas, not so much in Australia: when it happens it’s token," says Melbourne-based writer and speaker Carly Findlay, who has the genetic skin condition ichthyosiform erythroderma.
Still, Findlay and the disability community are celebrating after UK-based fashion e-tailer ASOS launched a two-piece suit that is "wheelchair friendly" on Wednesday.
The suit, which sells in Australia for $80, was designed in partnership with British Paralympic archer and BBC reporter Chloe Ball-Hopkins.
Models wearing the new ASOS 'wheelchair friendly' suit.
Ball-Hopkins revealed the collaboration on her Twitter account, later saying in a TV interview: "I said this needs to change ... so I sent out a few emails and ASOS agreed to work with me."
The response to the suit on social media was overwhelmingly positive.
"I’ve had a wheelchair for a week (it's temporary) and had no idea how hard it actually was before. Thank you for championing inclusivity," one user wrote on Twitter.
Findlay said she hoped the ASOS launch would be the start of a broader conversation about better access to fashion for people with disabilities. "It makes me feel that people are being represented, that access and inclusion is at their front of mind now," she said.
Social media has played a major role in connecting people with disabilities to fashion brands, and educating the public, she said.
"I still love fashion and I don’t see myself represented well [in the industry ... Fashion has been part of my life for so long ... I want to show I wear clothes. I like clothes, they make me happy," Findlay said.
Disabled models in the Open World show at Moscow Fashion Week 2017.
She said the industry still needed to do a lot more work to make people with disabilities feel included.
"We’re not treated the same when we go into stores," she said. "For me, I am sometimes not even spoken to. They think I am not going to want their clothes or their service, or they might be embarrassed to be seen with me."
One of the world's leading advocates for better access to the fashion industry for disabled people, Sinead Burke, told Business of Fashion in April that the fashion industry needed to apply its existing skills to accommodate people with all kinds of disabilities.
"For people in wheelchairs, for instance, it’s about the length of sleeves, which can catch on wheels. You adjust through tailoring, which is what little people require too," said Burke, whose 2017 TED talk on the issue has had nearly 1.3 million views.
Imran Amed, founder and chief executive of Business of Fashion, said it was no longer acceptable for any industry to exclude people on the basis of ability.
"We have a responsibility to be more inclusive – not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes business sense. The economic opportunity alone underscores this, but we have a moral responsibility that makes this essential," he told Fairfax Media.
In September, Findlay will organise Access to Fashion, an event that includes a panel discussion and a runway show featuring a diverse range of models with physical and intellectual disabilities.
"I don't want to show that disability looks a certain way. When we show representation, we show the world and each other. As much as it’s outward facing, this is for us," Findlay said.
To support Access to Fashion, visit gofundme.com/access-to-fashion.
Melissa Singer is Fairfax Media's Deputy Lifestyle Editor and fashion columnist.