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How fashion can be a vehicle to push inclusion and diversity

Even today, countless areas of everyday life are difficult to access for many people. This is also noticeable in the fashion industry. People with bodies that deviate from supposedly standard bodies are hardly ever referred to in the fashion world. Finding fitting fashion therefore remains an exclusionary characteristic. Stores offer no clothes that are adapted to individual needs. Even online, the supply of adapted clothing is relatively small so far. Going to the tailor after buying a new garment is indispensable.

This makes suitable clothing a privilege. The desire for well-fitting and individual clothing potentially becomes a luxury for a person with a disability. The time and expense involved, or even the lack of availability, do not make conventional shopping equal.

Fashion is a powerful instrument in this respect. It is omnipresent and always around us. People have the need to dress and express their individuality. Yet the potential of fashion is not sufficiently exploited in a social context. Instead, the significance of fashion as part of a social structure is trivialized and downplayed.

The fashion industry is by definition exclusive

There is something fundamentally exclusive about fashion. The wearer of fashionable clothing is consciously interested in standing out from the crowd. With fashion one distinguishes oneself from others, from old ways and from the masses. The basic principle of adaptive clothing, however, is inclusion. Thus it stands in contrast to the exclusive principle of fashion.

Nevertheless, self-expression through fashionable clothing plays an important role in our society. It should therefore not be a privilege to be able to choose these clothes yourself.

“I want garments that reflect my personality. It's difficult to find in the childrenswear department. And often womenswear requires far too many alterations. I want shoes that affect my maturity, professionalism and sophistication. Instead, I'm offered sneakers with Velcro straps and light-up shoes.” (Burke, 2017)

Currently, everyone is talking about inclusion and diversity as the way forward. At the same time, clothing can be a cause of exclusion if it does not follow a collective mindset. For marginalized people and groups, exclusion can be reinforced by the factor fashion.

But inclusion in fashion cannot take place without also providing for more inclusion in general. Even with legislatives from the UN or the European Union true inclusion is yet to be achieved. People with disabilities are also under-represented in the media and the public. Both factors have the consequence that the lack of visibility of people with disabilities creates society living next to each other instead of with each other. If fashion is to become truly inclusive, we must work together to break down old norms, in the minds, politics and society.

Appropriate clothing is a privilege

A non-disabled person will normally find suitable clothing in any clothing store of their choice. For some years now, commercial shops have also been offering more and more fashion for particularly petite or tall people. The mills grind slowly in the fashion world, because despite visible changes, the inclusion of people with disabilities is sought in vain in online shops or retail stores.

Especially Little People have to have the purchased garment fitted by a tailor after almost every purchase before they can wear it. This is inevitably associated with further expenditure of time and money.

Unfortunately, there are few fashion labels that include clothes for people with disabilities into their portfolio. On the one hand this is due to the long-standing discrimination and exclusion of people with disabilities and on the other hand to the reluctance of the fashion industry to break new ground. Because although the fashion world is concerned with setting trends, its processes transform slowly. But that does not mean that you should throw in the towel. There are more and more young entrepreneurs who are willing to break new ground and together with big players in the fashion world and many supporters, transformation processes can take hold.

We need more inclusion in general

Lack of access to appropriate clothing is only a small part of a much larger structural problem, as we generally need full inclusion of people with disabilities.

In a society in which individuality and self-determination are becoming increasingly important, we must not forget the people who are hindered by man-made barriers. Starting with the decision which clothes to wear up to the choice of one's own living conditions: Our society does not yet offer all people enough possibilities for self-determination. Fashion can be an effective instrument here to discover one's own identity, to play with it, to experience equality and to shape one's own life.