Being born with congenital defects, I am well aware of what it feels like to be ignored or treated like a second-class citizen. But since my disability is not apparent at first glance, I live in two worlds.
When my surgically altered feet are covered with cute espadrilles, sleek platform pumps, or this season’s military inspired utility booties, people label me ‘normal.’ But when I have the audacity to dance barefoot in an African or modern dance class, practice hot yoga without socks, or wear flip flops on a sweltering Virginia summer day, people immediately replace the normal label with an ‘abnormal’ one.
My experience with people labeling me ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ is a snapshot of a much larger issue facing other fashion consumers with disabilities. Right now, this group is a blip on the radar of the mainstream fashion industry. But I am eternal optimist, and I truly believe things will change for fashion consumers with disabilities, which is why I am an advocate on a quest for fashion inclusivity.
Many people with and without disabilities dismiss my pursuit for fashion inclusivity as a trivial one. But I respectfully disagree. Did you know that today a pet owner has more in-store clothing options than a person with an ambulatory disability? Don’t get me wrong, I love pets. As a matter of fact I have a very distinguished tuxedo cat, by the name of Mr. Yitty, who allows me to live with him in my condo. It’s just that, in 2010 I don’t think that pet owners should have more in-store or online clothing options than people…with disabilities.
For example, not many fashion retailers realize that wheelchair users have difficulty wearing high heels and wedges due to problems with pressure sores and so-called foot drop. Also, standard footplates on many wheelchairs aren’t designed for shoes that aren’t flat. Until retail outlets go beyond wheelchair accessible dressing rooms to actually selling clothing and shoes in stores designed for the seated figure, I will continue this quest.
My quest for fashion inclusivity includes three pillars:
Acknowledging that people with disabilities are viable fashion consumers; you can’t design for someone you don’t acknowledge.
Actively listening to fashion consumers with disabilities, to hear what they have to say about their fashion needs. Like other fashion consumers, fashion consumers with disabilities are diverse and have a variety of needs.
Commit to serving fashion consumers with disabilities. Not pitying them, not patronizing them, but serving them. The same attention to detail used when designing, marketing, branding, and retailing other fashion lines must be used when designing, marketing, branding, and retailing fashion lines for fashion consumers with a disability.
Implementing these three pillars can help change the landscape of fashion as we know it. In my writings for abledbody, I’ll talk about trends in fashion for people with disabilities, what retailers are doing right (and wrong), and how we can make the industry more fashion inclusive.