The fashion industry is worth $27.2 billion in Australia, but what do you do when the fashion industry wasn’t built for you?
When the clothes don’t fit your unusual body shape?
I was born with nemaline rod muscular myopathy (NM).
It’s a rare, non-progressive condition and there are around 35 cases in Australia. As a result, my muscles are weaker compared to most people, with my limb, trunk and facial muscles affected the most.
I use an electric wheelchair to get around and a ventilator to help me breathe.
As I had to “prop and rock” to breathe when I wasn’t on my ventilator growing up, I have very narrow shoulders and I also have scoliosis, which means while I’m a size 6 everywhere else, I’m a size 12 in my waist. Hence, the unusual body shape.
Growing up, I’d always loved fashion, but in my later teens, I really discovered my style — classic modern, as I like to call it. Think lace fabric done in an edgy design, that’s me, something that never goes out of fashion.
The lack of fashion available for people who use wheelchairs really became apparent when I started attending the races. When I was 18 years old, I became a part-owner of a racehorse and now I have shares in several horses. And part of the fun of going to the races is dressing up.
Physical disabilities are a rare thing in fashion, but for Fashions on the Field, it’s basically unheard of. Entering the competition was the tipping point when I realised that non-disabled people don’t expect people with disabilities to be fashionable and perhaps I could help change that.
As I started going to the races, I started posting more on social media, including the outfits I was wearing. I was doing it just for fun but then people became more interested. The dressing up, however, got even more extravagant when I started competing in Fashions on the Field. I entered my first competition in October 2018 and became a serious competitor in February 2020.
Finding outfits that were appropriate for the races and Fashions on the Field plus for someone sitting down all of the time, that fitted my body shape while also keeping with my style became increasingly hard. Eventually, my mum went from just altering my clothes to sewing complete outfits.
A highlight of ours would have to be when I first won Fashions on the Field at Ascot opening day last year in a white and black dress she made. This year I made the top 10 in Myer Fashion on your Front Lawn for WA in two outfits that mum created.
As far as I’m aware, I was the only person with a physical disability to compete in Myer Fashion on your Front Lawn nationally this year. I was also named in Vogue Australia as one of the best racing styles from Myer Fashions on your Front Lawn 2021, so that was pretty exciting.
While all of this was going on, I was growing my social media knowledge. I had commenced a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in marketing and advertising, at Curtin University, from which I’ve recently graduated. It was here that I discovered my passion for digital marketing. Posting on my Instagram account allowed me to explore digital marketing.
It was also a creative outlet, which was why I was drawn to marketing in the first place; I thrive on that balance between strategy and creativity. When it came to fashion and Instagram, I loved nothing more than designing an outfit with mum, styling it, photographing it, creating a strategy and posting it.
University didn’t just help me with my digital marketing skills though, it helped me with my job prospects too. Thanks to COVID, Curtin University allowed remote internships. As a result of that internship and knowing that I wanted to work in the digital marketing space, I started my own business, Little Black Dress Digital.
LBD Digital is a small digital marketing agency. My business has just turned a year old and I already have five full-time clients as well as some additional work for others.
LBD Digital specialises in owned digital media, but for those not familiar with marketing jargon, it’s basically the opposite of paid advertising. Most of my clients require social media content creation and management as well as email content creation. I also build website and offer website maintenance.
Working for myself has been amazing, as a nine-to-five job would be too hard for me physically due to my disability. While there are still the challenges of people seeing past my disability, I like to let my work do the talking. As a result, my business is finally growing and there are exciting times ahead for me.
After my big win at Fashions of the Field last year, I had a lady come up to me who asked to take a photo with me because she follows me on Instagram. I’d never been asked this before and I had to smile on the inside.
Advocating through Instagram and posting pictures of my life became a priority to me in April this year. I posted a reel because I thought it was funny and due to its content plus a few marketing strategies thrown in, it went viral, reaching over 410,000 views, which was a lot considering my small following.
It attracted new followers and I used the opportunity to educate even more people about disability and fashion. It’s very much a snowball effect — once you start to gain traction on social media platforms.
When it comes to growing my Instagram though, people say oh you’re an influencer now. While I see myself more as a content creator, I guess I am an influencer, just not your traditional type.
I influence the way others think about people with disabilities. I’m showing them that we can be fashionable and that we shouldn’t be a second thought. Therefore, Instagram means more to me than just posting pictures, it means I’m breaking down disability stereotypes.
ABC is partnering with International Day of People with Disability to celebrate the contributions and achievements of the 4.4 million Australians with disability.