We are incredibly happy to share that Samanta’s interview with UOL, a major magazine in Brazil, has been posted.
In addition to talking about her personal experiences, Samanta spoke about her dreams for people with disabilities, about her goals with SB, and about the importance of opening her eyes and seeing this large portion of the population.
We translated to English or head over to uol to read it in Portuguese.
Wheelchair model uses fashion for inclusion: “Clothes have to adapt us”
27 years ago, Samanta Bullock, now with 41 years of age, became paraplegic after accidentally shooting herself in the belly. Worse than not being able to walk, she says, was not being able to do two of her biggest passions anymore: acting as a model and playing tennis. That started to change when Samanta got to know a wheelchair tennis project. She became a professional sports athlete and became the number one wheelchair in the sport in Brazil. Later, when she took a photo session to promote a wheelchair at the sponsor’s request, she rescued her childhood dream of working as a model.
On top of her wheelchair, Samanta was on the cover of magazines and paraded on catwalks around the world. And she created SB, a department store that sells universal and tailored clothing with a focus on social inclusion. She shares her story below:
“I was 14 when I took the gun from my father in the closet and I shot it accidentally, which caught my belly, liver, pancreas, spine, and burned my marrow. At the time, I fell on the floor and no longer felt my legs It was such a severe pain that it anesthetized me. My mother heard the noise and quickly took me to the hospital with the help of some neighbors. When I got there, I heard one of the doctors comment to another that I would no longer walk.
I didn’t mind not walking, my biggest fear was dying. They made the surgery to remove the bullet and when I woke up, I already knew that I had lost my leg movements and that I would be in a wheelchair. The worst part for me was not the paralysis itself, but it is the chronic pain that I feel every day until today.
Image: Ange Harper
I did not see the wheelchair as something negative but as my release.
With it, I adapted and learned to do everything I could within my reach. The support of my friends and family was essential in this process.
Number 1 tennis player in a wheelchair in the country
After the accident, I thought I could no longer model or play tennis, the two things I most enjoyed doing. I worked as a model since I was 8 years old due to the influence of my mother, who had been a miss. And I played tennis since I was 9, came from a family of practitioners of the sport.
For me, not being able to model was worse than not being able to walk.
With the dream interrupted, I went on with my life and focused on my studies. I entered the dental school, stopped, started to do law school, and worked in the Legislative Assembly of Rio Grande do Sul. After a while, I was transferred to the Senate, in Brasília, where I worked in the elaboration of the Statute of the Person with Disabilities.
During this work, I got to know a wheelchair tennis project. I took a test class and, even 12 years away from the courts, I realized that I still had the skills for the sport. I returned to practice the sport three times a week, participated in some tournaments, became professional, became an athlete, and became the number 1 tennis player in a wheelchair in Brazil. I disputed three world championships for my country and won the silver medal in the Parapan-American Games with my partner, Rejane Cândida
The flurry on the way to being a model
With my popularity in the sport, my sponsors asked me to act as a model and take pictures with the products they sponsored. I went to a wheelchair photoshoot and the whole universe woke me up. I was in tennis, but I thought, “This is what I want to do”.
Tennis allowed me to go back to my passion, which was modeling. I continued with the sport, but I ran after my goal. It was not easy: besides being in a wheelchair, I was 26 years old – I was already considered old for the fashion world.
In parallel to the rehearsals with the sponsors, I made a book and started calling and going to various agencies asking to hire me. I said that I was in a wheelchair and talked about the importance of social inclusion. I received a flood of nos. I persisted and managed to parade at a jeans brand event with the help of a friend who knew the store owner.
Wedding and magazine covers in London
A year after that first parade, in 2007, I met my husband, who is British, during tennis tournaments around the world. He worked at the International Tennis Federation. We moved to London and got married.
When I arrived in London, I signed a contract with an agency that worked with people with disabilities. I did magazine covers, participated in parades, was an extra in a TV show. From 2009 to 2014, I was a poster girl for an adapted clothing brand in Portugal.
Since 2010 I have been doing social work in Brazil: I am an ambassador for the ‘Inclusive Fashion’ project. I do workshops, lectures, teaching makeup, parading, using accessories. I work with children with Down Syndrome, wheelchair users, amputated. My goal is to launch other models creating greater representativeness. In 2011, I retired from tennis and focused only on my modeling career.
I didn’t find beautiful, comfortable and functional clothes
One of my biggest difficulties since I became a wheelchair user and, mainly, when I started modeling again was finding beautiful, comfortable, and functional clothes. It may not seem like it, but one of the biggest problems for people with disabilities is finding clothes that are suitable for their needs, and that makes them feel good.
Fashion is dictatorial, it defines what we will use.
Large companies sell small, medium, and large clothes as if everyone fits just that. Clothes are not thought of in a sitting position, for example. And I don’t say that just because I’m in a wheelchair, but if we think about it, most people spend most of their time sitting, at work, at school, on trips.
When wearing coats and long dresses, I needed to pull them up, because they reached the wheels, got dirty, and were still in danger of tearing. Sometimes I needed to buy a dress with a larger number to be more comfortable, and that gave the impression that I was a few extra pounds. Wearing jeans without spandex tightened me, hurt my groin.
I had some strategies. For example, I would put on a wider shirt when wearing pants with a low waistband so as not to show my butt. The high-waisted pants tightened my belly, so I unbuttoned the button and put a larger shirt over it. It was very difficult to find clothes that were both beautiful and comfortable.
Image: Ange Harper
I always had to find ways to adjust to the clothes, not the clothes to adjust to me.
It bothered me a lot. There were already adapted pieces at the time, but I found most of them ugly and without style.
When I walked and did the rehearsals, I analyzed the clothes on my body and realized that with some adjustments they would be perfect for a woman in a wheelchair. Sometimes they were simple adjustments, like changing the position button, or leaving less fabric in one region. When I realized this need, I reflected that I had already conquered many things as a model and that I needed to solve this problem of inappropriate parts for people with disabilities and bring solutions in a way that the customers felt good and beautiful.
Universal and tailored clothing with a focus on inclusion
I decided to launch SB in London, an online department store that provides universal and tailored clothing with a focus on inclusion and sitting. I met with eight designers from the brands I already worked with and made a proposal for each of them to make three to five adapted pieces, with my consultancy, combining beauty, comfort, and elegance.
Among the adapted pieces, there are options for wheelchair users and dwarves and jewelry with phrases written in Braille for the blind.
The idea worked and, in June 2019, we launched the spring-summer collection, with 35 pieces signed by me. My company works as a marketplace, where we sell our own productions and those of other designers. We sell a piece, for example, that was created by a designer inspired by his father with Parkinson. As he was shaking a lot, she made the shirt with decorative buttons on the front, but it opened and closed with velcro.
We also have partnerships with brands that have sustainability in their DNA. We sell pieces from companies that reuse fabrics that would be thrown away and make skirts. There is another one that creates hippie jackets and gloves with pineapple leather. Another uses the fibers of marijuana to make dresses. And a brand makes an organic cotton bra.
Catwalk with models with Down syndrome and vitiligo
We started with eight brands and today we have a partnership with 23. Our pieces are sold on the website and on Instagram. In February of this year, we presented SB at London Fashion Week. We took wheelchair models to the catwalk, with Down syndrome, with vitiligo, with burns. It was a unique and special moment.
In the future, there are plans to create the adapted children’s line and expand the men’s line. We are looking for partnerships with Brazilian brands that fit our philosophy.
Almost 30 years after the accident, nothing would change what happened. I am disabled and I have no problem with that.
My disability is part of my story. I am among the 100 most influential people with disabilities in the UK. If I hadn’t suffered the accident and its consequences, I wouldn’t have become the person I am.
That’s what I always say: do what you can, with what you have, in the best possible way. I do my best to look for inclusion and equality through fashion.”
Image: Isana Ribeiro
Image: Isana Ribeiro
Traduction by Beatriz Bebiano
Original text by Bárbara Therrie