For years, the fashion industry has had the reputation of being an unwelcoming place for certain people of various races and sizes, but as the times change, these issues are being continually addressed in many different ways. Few have even considered the possibility of including people with disabilities in fashion—it seems unlikely that any major brand would put a model in a wheelchair on its runway or feature someone with autism in its national campaign.
But during this year’s New York Fashion Week, the industry made a huge stride when Jamie Brewer, a popular actress with Down Syndrome (you may know her from “American Horror Story”), strode down the catwalk in up-and-coming designer Carrie Hammer’s show. She was joined by Danielle Sheypuk, winner of Ms. Wheelchair New York 2012, who became the first model in history to ever roll down the runway in a wheelchair.
Cynics could view these steps forward as a calculated publicity stunt on the part of Carrie Hammer’s team, comparable to the instances when designers feature a token minority or plus-size model in their campaigns or shows to gain a sense of “political correctness.” However, that doesn’t seem to be the case here; Hammer’s entire brand is built around the idea of professional clothing for “Real Women,” and successful women of all ages and walks of life were featured on her catwalk. Speaking to Elle Magazine about her unique casting decision, Hammer said, “It wasn’t about casting a token model in a wheelchair. Danielle is a role model. Period.”
Hammer’s website is built around her social justice in fashion campaign, “Role Models not Runway Models.” Her intention is to present women with inspirational figures, a unique stance in an industry that has long presented their clients with waifish 17-year olds as their standard of beauty and glamour.
Hammer is not alone is her more nuanced representation of women with disabilities in media. Diesel, a brand that has always been known for their cutting edge (and occasionally risque or offensive) photo campaigns, featured a beautiful model in a wheelchair in an ad earlier this year. And Brewer, the model with Down Syndrome who graced Hammer’s runway, has appeared as a major character in three seasons of the hit FX show “American Horror Story,” to much acclaim from television critics and disabilities activists alike. “It’s amazing that the fashion industry are including individuals with disabilities,” Brewer said after the show. “It’s an amazing opportunity for women, women that are disabled.”
Hopefully this more inclusive side of fashion will be more than just a passing trend. However, whether it is a refreshing but rare exception to fashion industry’s usual exclusions or a harbinger of great strides to come remains to be seen.
Photos courtesy of Popsugar Fashion, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post.