April 11, 2021

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. Any business would want the most professional people for the job and just because we’re selling clothing for predominantly disabled women, it’s no different.”

The Christina Stephens online community has been steadily growing since the label launched in March??? 2020. While the feedback is usually positive, there have been some hurtful and thoughtless comments about the models chosen.

The label is for both disabled and non-disabled women so of course it makes sense to include both in our imagery,”said Ms Sadler. “Our models with disabilities actually have those same disabilities in real life,” she added. 

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. 


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