This is an article I wrote for a New York based digital-magazine, Reverie. The full link is listed below.
Communication from fashion labels is no longer limited to a single billboard in Times-Square, a one-off editorial spread in your favorite magazine or seasonal launch at NYFW.
Online platforms like Instagram have allowed labels to tell more of a story about who they are and what they stand for. It’s something that was simply not an option in the aforementioned ‘older’ forms of communication.
Increasingly, consumers are demanding transparency from fashion labels and want to know about more than just the price or fabric type. More than ever, consumers are aware that their spending habits have the potential to change the world.
While that may seem like a farfetched statement, there are examples where this has been the case in the fashion industry.
Consider the public outrage and subsequent pressure that ensued after the unethical manufacturing processes of certain big brands were revealed (underpaying staff in developing countries).
Around the world, consumers spoke up with their spending power and profits fell. Subsequently, international share prices dropped and global practices were reviewed.
Another more recent example is the trend towards sustainable or eco-friendly fashion. Once again, consumers are putting their money where their mouth is and opting for the more environmentally responsible option.
The ‘quirky little hippy vegan label’ was once only seen in small, independent boutiques or on an Instagram bohemian earth-mother. But more well-known labels are catching on and responding to the considerable increase in consumer demand for fashion that also prioritizes the well-being of our planet.
SO WHAT ELSE ARE FASHION LABELS SAYING TO US ABOUT THEIR VALUES IN THIS NEW ERA OF DIGITAL STORYTELLING?
On the surface, they ‘appear’ to value diversity and inclusion. As evidenced by the noticeable rise in more diverse representations on runways and the marketing and advertising for certain labels.
Take for example the inclusion of plus-size or curve models (aka normal-size people) at fashion shows or in other communications for a label.
Gone was the waif-thin heroin chic of decades past who has been replaced with a more realistic reflection of the consumer base.
Those sorts of diversity used to be such a big deal but these days, few bat a shimmery eyelid.
The same can be said for cultural or ethnic diversity. It’s no longer as big a deal for labels to include a variety of skin tones or ethnicity in their advertising, marketing, or on the runway.
Notably, the pressure for labels to be more diverse in their communications with consumers has only increased following the Black Lives Matter protests.
While these changes within the fashion industry are commendable and long overdue, there’s still one story that fashion labels are not telling when it comes to diversity.
If you scroll through the digital fingerprint of your favorite mainstream label, it’s clear that disability isn’t a value they want to include.
Labels want to appear diverse, inclusive, socially responsible, and incredibly woke by featuring diversity in their marketing and advertising but in fact, they only want to cherry-pick the more palatable forms of diversity, which rarely, if ever, includes disability.
I understand that it’s not the responsibility of fashion labels to include every single skerrick of diversity in the world. That’s unrealistic and everyone has their niche. However, for the bigger mainstream labels, with a much wider target market, excluding the visibility of disability is a really bad business model.
Fashion labels need to recognize that of the 20% of our community who identify as having a disability, about 100% of those are consumers with money to spend. Not to mention the millions of family, friends who also want to buy from a label that clearly values their loved one.
And it’s not just pajamas and tracksuits that many in the disability community are buying. There are plenty who, like me, want fashion that looks and feels good for all sorts of events and functions – just like the non-disabled community.
As I said in a recent television interview, I can’t walk but I can shop.
When I do shop for fashion, I want my dollars to go towards labels that show they value me and my community in some way.
So why bother with something as frivolous as fashion when there are clearly bigger issues affecting the disability community?
Yes and no. There are definitely bigger fish to fry when it comes to disability but I have to choose my battles. I’m not in politics, human resources or healthcare so can’t do as much there but I am in advertising, marketing, and media.
I spent years creating visibility for my national and international clients, Visibility for their brands, products, services, and messages.
Over the last decade or so I’ve used so many of those same strategies and principles to create visibility for disability in popular culture, like the fashion industry. With time, consistent and truthful representation changes public perceptions and social attitudes which, given time, flows on to affect the ‘bigger’ issues like healthcare and employment.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
A simple start would be to scroll through your favorite label’s Instagram feed and see how many times disability is represented in some way (either in the image or the caption).
NB: Not just visible disabilities but maybe the model or designer has an invisible disability that is mentioned.
The purpose of this is not to encourage public shaming, call-outs, or cancel culture but to let labels know that it is an issue in the first place.
Visibility for disability in fashion has been pushed aside for more palatable forms of diversity for long enough but often the person or people behind those labels don’t realize it’s something they need to address until problems start showing up in the profit margins of a spreadsheet.
Please do me and the millions of other people with disabilities a favor (that may even include you). Slide into the DMs of your favorite label and politely ask them why they aren’t representing consumers with disabilities.
As we have done for other global issues like ethical manufacturing, climate change, and better size or color diversity in the fashion industry, visibility for disability needs your virtual voice.
The original article appeared August 18, 2020: