Incorporating People With Disabilities Into the Fashion Industry

Often when speaking about the process of diversifying the fashion industry, people tend to put the majority of focus on including more people of color and different body types. When speaking about body types, we think of able-bodied people, completely overlooking those with disabilities. In my last column, I spoke about different brands and people that are trying to make the industry more inclusive. Yet I failed to mention people with developmental disabilities as being part of the journey to helping everyone enjoy the style community.

Aaron Philip is the first Black, transgender, and developmentally disabled model to ever have a high fashion modeling contract. Appearing in campaigns for Sephora and Dove, the 19-year-old model said in a Glamour interview, “I’m very aware of the fact that I have a lot of young LGBTQ [members], femme women, and young girls who are inspired by me and are supporting me. I do it all for them, really. I check in with them, because I really love them. I’m one of them. How could I not look out for myself and my people?” Being able to have someone to look up to is so important on the road to nourishing self-love and self-worth. Philip strives to continue modeling and working in the field of fashion. In the future, she wants to model for major fashion houses and later on work as an actor, or in other forms of entertainment. Growing up she says her biggest inspiration and idol was Rihanna, and admires how she has built an empire. Philip wants to have a similar grouping of fans and would like to be a mix of successful models such as Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, and Chloe Sevigny. She is absolutely beautiful and I am so excited to see what else she does in the near future.

Jovana Mulins created a fashion brand inspired by the people she had seen at New York’s Center for All Abilities. This is a place for people with disabilities to do art and work freely. She loved their artwork so much that she decided to launch a clothing brand named Alivia. Focused on enlightening the world with color, the brand has become pretty successful and releases collections frequently. Their motto is “Where some see disabilities, Alivia sees art for fashion.” The brand’s theme seems to be a mix of bright colors and a variety of shapes, textures and designs that make the clothing unique and beautiful. This all started when a 16-year-old boy diagnosed with autism began to attend the center for support. Mulins loved his designs and that’s when she had the idea to launch her brand.

Here in the Bay Area there are multiple art organizations for disabled people. These organizations focus on creating a safe and joyful community for everyone to express their individuality. Creative Growth is a non-profit organization designed to be a home and peaceful space for people with disabilities. Every year they hold their annual fashion show, where artists walk the runway wearing the clothing they have created. It’s a celebration of their creative minds and gives them the opportunity to perform. Niad is another non-profit organization where people with disabilities can create art. Based in Richmond, you view the artists’ work online, the pieces ranging from paintings to dresses. 

The fashion industry is slowly becoming more accepting of everyone, but tends to overlook the fact that abled-bodies are not the only type of body that need to be included.

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