Fashion and beauty innovators see opportunities for disability inclusion to cater for ‘trillion-dollar’ market
When Parkinson’s disease started preventing makeup artist Terri Bryant from being able to draw the simplest of lines, she knew she had to do something about it.
- People with disabilities are often overlooked by the industry
- But there is growing recognition of the need to rectify the issue
- The largely untapped market is said to be worth a 1.2 trillion dollars
Ms Bryant is part of a growing movement in the fashion and beauty industry, which is developing products for and with people with disability — recognising a virtually untapped trillion-dollar customer market.
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes tremors, balance problems and weakness, including in grip strength.
Ms Bryant, who has worked for years as a professional makeup artist, started her accessible business Guide Beauty after she began to struggle using her usual cosmetic instruments.
“What I thought were simple techniques that I used to be able to knock out in 15 minutes … I just couldn’t get it quite right. I couldn’t get the control,” she said.
‘I pulled out the toolkit … and started prototypes’
The problems she was having inspired her to design cosmetic tools that were suitable for everyone regardless of their level of disability.
“I ran home, and I pulled out my makeup kit and I pulled out my husband’s tool kit. And I started prototypes,” Ms Bryant explained.
She launched Guide Beauty in 2020 and the business has been a huge success for representing people with disabilities.
Ms Bryant tried several styles before choosing tools that were built to a universal design standard so they’re comfortable for everyone.
The tools are designed to have large grips, facets for resting, and bring the handle closer to the face to make the application stable and easy to use.
“We could kind of help shift the narrative so that people could understand the value of inclusive representation on a design level, because that makes sense from a business perspective,” she said.
“That makes what is the right thing to do, also a smart business decision.
“The fact the industry has responded so well makes me realise that I don’t think we’re going to be alone in this space for long. I think people are going to be starting to shift their design process.”
From ‘disabled model’ to ‘model with a disability’
Ms Bryant is not the only one to have found their calling.
James Parr admits his journey to becoming one of Australia’s most sought-after models with a disability had a bumpy start.
When he was dignaosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and was told his leg needed to be amputated, he thought it would ruin his life.
“When it actually came to the surgeon telling me the best option is to amputate, I was like ‘cool, let’s do it’. And it happened five days later.”
Mr Parr was back in the gym 10 days after the surgery and said the amputation gave him a reason to start modelling, to change the narrative that having a disability was a sad outcome.
“I was like, ‘I don’t align with being sad or I don’t align with it as a negative thing,'” he said.
“It does bring more opportunities … I think part of why I love it and why I get myself out there and I’m so passionate about it, is representation.”
He hopes to expand his public image from “disabled model” to “model with a disability”.
“I’m trying to really hone my craft … I am a disabled model, but I want to be a model who has a disability … I just want to change that a bit because it’s a bit devaluing.”
Mr Parr has modelled for three years and represents international modelling agency Zebedee — having just walked the 2022 Melbourne fashion week runway with his prosthetic leg in clear view.
Tapping into a trillion-dollar industry
Launched in 2017, Zebedee specifically represents diverse models with a focus on LGBTQA+ talent and those with a disability.
Zebedee senior model booker for Australia and America, Victoria Johnson, said the disability modelling industry was a financially important but often overlooked side of the business.
“In the industry in general, if a brand is using disabled models, 20 per cent of society are disabled, so that’s quite a lot of spending power so that’s quite a lot of people who will see that product if a disabled person is using it,” Ms Johnson said.
“The spending power of disabled people worldwide is 1.2 trillion dollars so it makes sense for a business to be inclusive.
“It is really important for people with disabilities to feel represented and to feel self-worth.”
Zebedee was started in the UK by two sisters-in-law both with experience in modelling and disability support. The agency represents some famous talents including British Down Syndrome model Ellie Goldstein.
Zebedee only launched in Australia last year and already represents 60 people with disabilities.
‘One step forward and one or two back’
According to Ms Johnson and Zebedee junior model booker, Maddie Kalman, Australia is leading the way for disability representation in the industry.
“I think it’s really important to be diverse in that way in the fashion industry in Australia,” Ms Kalman said.
“I think Australia is getting there with diverse and inclusive representation, America’s a bit far behind unfortunately, but I think we’re getting there with Australia.
Ms Johnson said some of the important international fashion events in Europe, America and the UK did not always make room for models with disabilities.
“We’re not sure why they’re struggling with inclusivity in fashion shows, to be honest,” Ms Johnson said.
“It feels like you take a step forward and one or two back, but hopefully we can get to that place again, with our models working in the major places.
“We were really successful at Melbourne fashion week. Most of the shows did include a model with a disability or difference, which was awesome.”
Fashion that works in a wheelchair
In Australia, adaptive clothes are considered assistive technology and can be purchased through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Emma Clegg, occupational therapist and co-founder of adaptive clothing company JAM-the-Label said the NDIS had made it easier for people to purchase high-end accessible clothes.
“The Australian market is quite unique in that we have the NDIS, a lot of other countries don’t have a similar funding model,” Ms Clegg said.
“And so people can actually purchase adaptive clothing through their NDIS plans as low-cost assistive technology because it assists in active dressing and promotes independence and participation in an everyday skill or task.”
Ms Clegg and her business partner launched JAM in 2017 to help people like their clients wear comfortable and fashionable clothing that worked better in wheelchairs.
Some of the design features include shorter backs on jackets so extra fabric doesn’t bunch up between the wearer and the wheelchair, fully zippable sleeves and sides on tops, poncho-style opening on jackets, carry bags and the absence of itchy tags.
JAM model Jason Clymo said the NDIS made it easier for him to buy comfortable adaptive clothes instead of mainstream items that caused pressure sores.
“Before I was on the NDIS, I actually didn’t even really engage very much with the adaptive fashion industry because I didn’t really know much about it,” Mr Clymo said.
“It was actually through meeting JAM-the-Label that I realised that adaptive fashion was becoming quite a large part of the industry and realising that this was actually a really good option for me.”
Abolishing ‘us and them’ mentality
Ms Kalman said tokenism was still a problem in the industry, with a lot of major brands booking one model with a disability just for publicity.
“They’re getting the jobs which is great, but it’s like some brands are just ticking a box and they’re having like a token disabled person to make themselves look inclusive, but they’re not really,” she said.
Mr Clymo, who has represented mainstream modelling agency Wink as well as Zebedee, said he hoped in the future segregation in the fashion industry would vanish.
He said having models with and without a disability showcasing the same products would hopefully educate the industry more broadly, and the practice would become mainstream.
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