Fashion & Disability an Open Letter

Fashion & Disability an Open Letter

In 2018, it is not enough to have simply survived life’s obstacles – or even to thrive despite them. For me, as a paraplegic model, ambassador, parathlete, wife, and woman, to live my best life is to embrace my challenges.

Everyday, I accept myself. My legs, though at times I dislike them, are mine; though I don’t see them represented or reflected in the magazines and stores I browse in, they are here to stay. I’ve learned to love my body for all that it is. But still in 2018, and despite great progress towards diversity, it feels that there is much to be done to convince fashion to respect bodies like mine.

There are people like me all over the world growing up without any reference to their part or place in society; without seeing others, like themselves, living a full and fulfilling life. Still, it is as though having a disability is to be invisible – to have the full spectrum of who you are and who you could potentially become, ignored.

Beyond navigating the stigma, misconceptions, prejudice and doubts about what I, as a disabled person can achieve, I am working passionately to make sure that I see myself represented

samanta bullock wheelchair model abled body young
Before my accident – Samanta Bullock 1992

in my industry. I challenge myself to work fearlessly in fashion, so that others like me feel confident that they can not just survive their own obstacles, but thrive and embrace them too.

I want to make the industry I’ve worked in for 30 years, more inclusive. My drive comes from my experience growing up, working as a model in Brazil; having my accident and then feeling like my dreams had been taken away from me. This stage in my life lead me to the next – to becoming number one tennis champion in Brazil; to being signed to a modelling agency, representing top brands like the BBC and Toyota; and to featuring on the runways at London Fashion Week. Now, I’m channelling my passions towards making a difference – towards an industry that embraces and celebrates disabled bodies.

I want the next generation of disabled children and adults to see people just like them, working in all aspects of the fashion industry. I want to see disabled designers, stylists, makeup artists and photographers involved in major brands and fashion shows. In fashion’s future, there’s a place for blind and partially sighted people, deaf people, people in wheelchairs, people with learning disabilities – disabled people who have all sorts of abilities.

designer louise linderoth wheelchair model samanta bullock
Picture by Pavzo with Louise Linderoth at London Scouts LFW

I would like to work with all stakeholders in the industry to make fashion reflect society more accurately, and to create an environment wherein everybody feels welcome. In 2018, yes we have the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, River Island and ASOS to admire for their work towards this change; we have models like Kelly Knox and Madeline Stuart to inspire a new generation of models. But in 2018 I would like to see the leadership of these brands and power of these people’s stories motivating the entire fashion industry.

 

In 2018 it is not enough to leave the weight of inclusion on the shoulders of a few key players. Inclusion is about surviving and thriving together, embracing each other. Inclusion is about everybody – including you.

 

Why Fashion is So Wonderful at Creating Inclusion

Why Fashion is So Wonderful at Creating Inclusion

There is a common misconception amongst the general public that the fashion industry is full of stereotypes, social stigmas, and ostracism. Now, while it could certainly improve on all of those, fashion is definitely much better than it is made out to be. In fact, it can actually have a hugely positive impact on society, as the universal love of beautiful clothing, applying makeup and styling hair can bring people together.

disabled london scout fashion week wheelchair model samanta bullock
Take a look at my Interview for London Fashion Week Scout

This is especially the case for minority groups, and as a woman in a wheelchair myself, I know how included fashion can make you feel. Life can often be difficult for disabled people; some people simply don’t know how to approach someone in a wheelchair, and that can become quite challenging. So, the fact that fashion gives everyone, regardless of disability, ethnicity or gender, the chance to feel valued, is amazing.

Although, some people will still disagree and wonder how exactly fashion creates such inclusion. Well, that’s why I’ve put together a short list, to show that fashion is more than just a focus on appearance!

Boost Self – Love and Confidence

One of the most obvious ways that it helps is through the enhancement of self-love, and the increase in confidence. If you’re happy with what you see in the mirror, then you’re going to feel great about yourself. Once you acquire that sense of self-love, you won’t fear to talk to new people anymore, and that’s when you’ll realise that ninety-nine percent of people are open to getting to know you.

Gives You a Reason to Socialise 

samanta bullock wheelchair model disabled fashion wedding bride
London Fashion Week Project

If you love dressing up, getting your make up on, or styling your hair, then it just gives you that extra motivation to go out and showcase all of that. Therefore, if you keep socialising, and getting out the house, you’ll feel included more and more, and won’t feel like you’re isolated at home.

It’s Empowering

The fact that you can express your personality through the style of clothing that you choose, or the appearance that you go for, is very empowering. It highlights that every human-being is different, and that’s why the world is such a special place. The moment you feel so included, is when you recognise that everyone is in the same position, and we’re all just trying to display originality through our fashion choices.

Feel Comfortable with What You’re Wearing 

Fashion is one of those things that truly gives you the opportunity to feel comfortable in your clothes, no matter who you are. Typically, being in a wheelchair is a struggle when it comes to comfortable clothing. For instance, jeans often limit mobility and hurt due to the hard materials. So, being able to find fashionable clothes that fit well, and allow you to feel comfortable, is a real empowerment.

Creates Healthy Discussions

fashion Disabled Model- Wheelchair User
Saint Martins Talk

One of the ways that people don’t see fashion as positive, is the way that it always creates discussions. No matter who you are, you could easily chat to someone about the latest fashion trend, or the newest piece of clothing that is dividing opinion. You see, that’s a great thing, as it means no-one is excluded from conversations, as we can all have our opinion on fashion.

I hope you’ve found this article useful, and it would be great to know. Please leave a comment below!

 

Yoocan do anything inspirational website

Yoocan do anything inspirational website

 Do you know the website Yoocan do anything? It is an inspirational website telling the stories of a lot of great people. You should check it out. I was happy to be featured this month. Below is part of my interview. For the full article please check their website: https://yoocanfind.com

 

  • MY ACHIEVEMENTS MAKE ME FEEL OPTIMISTIC FOR MY FUTURE

Before my injury, I was a model and very active, playing handball and tennis. Since my accident, I have worked in politics, played tennis at the highest level, and performed in the 2012 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony among many other achievements. I can now look back proudly at what I have already achieved since my accident and have every reason to feel optimistic about the future. I love to travel, going to watch live music, visit family and friends and be as active as possible. I go to the cinema, enjoy eating out and exploring different restaurants and cuisines. I am on the books of Visable, an agency that specializes in the placement of disabled artists: http://visablepeople.com.

MODELING AT LONDON FASHION WEEK

I recently achieved a dream of modeling a collection at London Fashion Week.  For more information about my work go to www.samantabullock.com.  I am also using instagram to promote inclusive fashion and give ideas on what disabled people can wear.  I also post content regularly on my You Tube channel demystifying life as a wheelchair user and giving insight into fashion and disability with a focus on inclusion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Vfb3CRcnV8

Picture Credit:
Heber Barros Do

Fashion Is Embracing Change

Fashion Is Embracing Change

For models with disabilities, a fashion week with the name of ‘Runaway of Dreams’ is held. This fashion week was established in 2014 by a designer, Mindy Shayer and it gave different disabled models a platform to turn their dreams into reality. For Mindy, the main purpose of Runaway of Dreams was to make clothes for people with different disabilities. She herself, has a son who was born with a disability and that was her inspiration to make something for people who cant dress themselves. The clothes that are displayed during this fashion week are purely made for people with disabilities so that they don’t require a lot of help dressing up. Many different models collaborate with Runaway of Dreams and promote this cause.

wheelchair model samanta bullock london fashion week scout
Louise Linderoth Collection

One of the main reasons for growing awareness of diverse models is the fashion designers. Many different fashion designers and famous brands have taken strong action in promoting models with disabilities by giving them a platform. Some of these designers include the world-renowned fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger. Tommy Hilfiger is best known for his brand ‘Tommy Hilfiger Corporation’. Mr. Hilfiger has designed clothes for men and women with disabilities. He collaborated with Runaway of Dreams to design and promote clothes for adults with disabilities.

Every person who is passionate modeling, dreams of walking on the catwalk for some popular designer. Why should people with disabilities not get a chance? British Vogue gave a platform to disabled models to showcase themselves and feel as glamorous as any other model. Designers, Catherine Teatum and Rob Jones, collaboratively known as Teatum Jones, were ones of the pioneers who showcased the work at London Fashion Week and for this, they choose disabled models. They promoted models with different disabilities and gave them a highly professional platform to show their work.

It’s not just fashion designers that are promoting disabled models, but fashion stores such as ASOS have also used disabled models to promote their brands. ASOS has joined BDF (Business Disability Forum) which make clothes for Paralympic athletes. By partnering with them, they’re not only making clothes for disabled people but have participated in creating awareness among people that there are more than 6.9 million disabled people in the United Kingdom. Their promotion of this cause has also led them to make it easier for disabled people to shop online. They have used numerous disabled models to walk on the ramp.

wheelchair model LFW samanta bullock disabled madeira de rodas
Samanta at LFW

Many disabled models have been given an opportunity to be in the runaway with confidence and pride. American horror story actress, Jamie Brewer, is the first model with Down’s syndrome to walk on the ramp in London based models of diversity fashion week. Other than that,  British personal trainer, Jack Eyers, became the first male amputee model to walk on the catwalk. Jack Eyers was picked by celebrity fashion designer, Antonio Urzi, who is known to design clothes for Beyonce and Lady Gaga.

Many people and designers have expanded their horizons and thought out of the box to make fashion look more glamorous and nothing is more glamorous than beauty displayed in every shape and size. Due to the awareness caused by these designers, people are now becoming more and more concerned with expanding the definition of fashion and the way people think. Fashion is not about the beauty anymore, it is so much more and that itself is beautiful.