Under-representation of people with disabilities a big concern for every brand

So many of us have been there… You’re happily scrolling through social media and suddenly stop when your attention is caught by beautiful new threads. But your excitement is only short lived because when you scan the model, it in no way feels like ‘you’. Not literally but you just can’t see your life with disabilities reflected in the image.

So you decide that garment isn’t for you and just keep scrolling. That fleeting thought of tapping through, and potentially purchasing, gone within a microsecond.

This happens every day around the world and across Australia. 

Being “authentic” isn’t just a buzzword for brands – it’s crucial for survival. But it’s something that Brisbane adaptive fashion label Christina Stephens is grappling with, after putting a call out for models with disabilities and getting…crickets. 

Jessie Sadler, Founder of adaptive clothing label Christina Stephens, is working with a number of disability advocates to reduce this gap in the fashion and media industries, and celebrate diversity, inclusion and representation.

“One in five people in Australia live with a disability. You’re likely to know someone in your family or close circle of friends with a disability. But when we scroll through our social media platforms, this significant portion of the population is severely under-represented”. 

The label put a call out on social media looking for female models with physical disabilities, to help them showcase a new sizing range, and their next collection, but were disappointed with the lack of response from professionals in the industry.

So the Christina Stephens creative directors went one step further and approached mainstream talent agencies in search of professional models with disabilities. The result was very disappointing with all but one agency having no disabled talent to choose from.

“Although modelling agencies have a reputation for being exclusive to a certain aesthetic, it’s outrageous that there are so few, if any, models to represent a staggering 20% of our population,” said Ms Sadler.    

“We absolutely want to showcase real women with real disabilities and challenges, and show other women out there what’s available to them. But it’s hard finding professionally trained people to help us do that.

In addition to the lack of response for professional models, Jessie admits sometimes the conversations can get a little awkward when seeking the right representation of her brand. 

“It can get a little tricky sometimes. A lot of our clothes are designed for women in wheelchairs or with dexterity issues, so I’ve literally been on the phone to modelling agencies asking for people with type A disability or type B. It can sound like we’re treating potential models as objects, but the reality is that we need to be selective about who we choose to represent our brand authentically.

“Although our clothes are designed for able-bodied women too, we cop a lot of flak online when we haven’t used models with disabilities. But trying to find professionals who truly represent the market we cater for is difficult.”

As a society we have just come to accept multi-cultural and plus-size models. Now we need to keep progressing to be more widely inclusive of models with disability.

Founding ambassador for Christina Stephens, and disability advocate Lisa Cox says the fashion industry is missing out on a huge portion of the population by not embracing inclusive representation. 

“Representing people with disabilities, making them visible and recognising their value to our economy and other contributions to society is something that many decision makers are too scared to do,” Lisa says. 

“Labels like Christina Stephens are both fashionable and functional which is a refreshing change in the industry.

“These well-designed garments are largely unavailable because the retail outlets haven’t expanded on their stock range to include these innovative pieces.

“If the fashion industry, as a whole, is serious about inclusivity, there needs to be greater cohesive effort here.”

I think we need to give cudo here to agencies like Zebedee, All Is For All, The-Right-Fit and Starting With Jul8ius. As the effort has started but we need more drive. There is also the Gamut talent agency in USA.. But what do we do in Australia?

If you are interested in modelling for Christina Stephens, or know of someone who might be, get in touch with the team athello@christinastephens.com.au 

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