Last month, Ellie Goldstein made history by being the first model with Down’s syndrome to ever be on the cover of British Vogue.
A massive breakthrough in the fashion industry.
While encouraging, this raises the question of the inclusion of people with disabilities: is it enough?
Recent data from the Census 2021 released by the Office for National Statistics shows that there were 9.8 million disabled people in England in 2021, meaning that more than 30% of households in England included one or more disabled member.
However, a report published in 2022 by MBS Group and The British Fashion Council indicates that only 7% of businesses could identify a senior leader who is disabled.
A gap clearly reflected in most brands’ image.
We met with a fashion designer and three models who actively advocate for more inclusion.
Fashion has always been an exclusive industry.
A stereotypical statement, some would argue, but the verity of it is undeniable.
Although in recent years, improvements have been made.
Brands have been trying to expand their reach by becoming more inclusive, both in terms of products manufactured and runway representation.
More and more people in England are indeed diagnosed with disabilities each year.
In 2001, 8.8 million individuals were identified as disabled, according to the ONS, and 9.4 million in 2011.
Which means that the number of disabled people in England went up 4.3 % from 2011 and up 11.4% from 2001.
Gemma Tyte, from Devon, is one of the fashion designer who is trying to change the industry.
Former fashion and textile student, she launched during her final year her own brand, Gemma Tyte Knit.
As a member of the disabled community herself – Gemma suffers from cerebral palsy –, it was important to her to be as inclusive as possible.
“Curating for all kind of people is easier than you think”, she says, “there are so many gaps that could be easily filled, small changes can make a big difference to many people.”
If the 24-year-old and others have made those changes, more remains to be done.
She explains: “There aren’t many brands that are all-inclusive, maybe around three or four.
“Some inclusivity is better than nothing.
“But it’s nowhere where it needs to be.”
However, Gemma admits that the industry is on the right path to become more inclusive, especially when it comes to better representation.
With the prominence of social media nowadays, greater visibility is given to the disabled community.
She adds: “It’s a work in progress, people online are raising awareness.
“Inclusivity is becoming a trend, not necessarily for the right reasons but in a way it’s also cool.
“It’s going to take a long time but bigger figures in the media are pushing it now.”
Alexandra Kutas, originally from Ukraine, co-founded Puffins, an adaptive clothing line of fashionable outerwear for people with disabilities.
She also became the world’s first runway model in a wheelchair in 2017.
And she seconds Gemma’s thinking.
She says: “I’m afraid true inclusion in fashion remains more of an exception than a rule.
“We still have a long way to go as a society.
“I am happy to see more people and brands championing change.
“It is groundbreaking to witness British Vogue dedicating its covers to leaders with disabilities.
“True inclusion would involve featuring models with disabilities in advertisements on the magazine’s pages every month.”
Despite being one of the only disabled models in Ukraine, and having participated in runway shows and done photoshoots across three different continents, the 29-year-old, who now lives in London, is conscious that her disability continues to be a barrier.
“When you are a model in a wheelchair you cannot rely on it to be set for life”, she explains, “to this day, it remains a significant struggle to make a name for oneself in the industry, and an even greater challenge to remain relevant after the wave of fame subsides.”
Sherine Khalil, 46, from London, got signed to Zebedee – the world’s leading inclusive talent agency – a couple of years ago.
As a double amputee and wheelchair user, the mum of three wanted to bring visibility to the disabled community by becoming a model.
She says: “I want to support the message that we are just like anyone else.
“I think everyone should be involved.
“People with disabilities also go out, do shopping, buy clothes, buy makeup, go on holidays, work have children, have families, make homes.
“They should not be isolated in any ways.”
Sherine is hoping that more individuals with disabilities being represented within the fashion industry will have influence on people, both on older and younger generations: “it’s the way to get to them, to say everyone is the same, everyone is equal”.
“At this time and age you’d think people are more broad-minded but no they’re not”, she adds, “why do companies feel that they cannot show [people with disabilities] in the advertisement of their product?”.
NHS biomedical scientist Sarah Haskins, from Rochester, was born with fibular Hemimelia and symbrachydactyly, two conditions affecting the development of her muscles and limbs.
As a result, one of her legs never fully grew.
And in 2022, she had to get it amputated.
She signed with Zebedee in January of this year.
After her surgery, the 41-year-old “gained the confidence to show [her amputation] off”, she explains, “it gave [her] the power back.”
Sarah thought she “would never become a model, all the models [she] ever saw portrayed looked the same.”
But her newfound confidence encouraged her to “go for it” and to help normalising models looking different, as do people all around the world.
More and more disabled models are getting signed with Zebedee and other agencies around the world, which is without a doubt promising.
However, they are still being underrepresented and marginalised.
An exclusion also observed in the range of products offered.
A reality that Gemma, Alexandra, Sherine, Sarah and thousands of others hope to overturn through their work and engagement.