Disability Visibility in Fashion

Darcey Sergison writes about the work of modelling agencies in representing disabled models to enhance diversity in the fashion industry.

It has been two decades since Alexander McQueen published the ground-breaking cover of a model with prosthetic legs on Dazed and Confused. But has the fashion community continued to represent equally disabled models?

Gucci released their beauty campaign this summer to an ecstatic response. Ellie Goldstein, a model with Down’s syndrome, was star of the campaign. This is one of the first fashion houses to make such a statement of diversity in their beauty campaigns. 

Typically, beauty campaigns only represent the societal ideal of one type of ‘beautiful’. Gucci’s campaign has created a space for all women to feel beautiful whether able bodied or not. By fighting ableism assumptions about beauty, this campaign has been one of the most successful beauty campaigns Gucci has launched receiving over 850k likes on the post.  

Less than 20% of UK adverts feature minority groups. However, representation of disabilities is even further excluded. Despite a fifth of the UK population being recorded as disabled only 0.06% of adverts feature disabled people.

Ellie Goldstein is signed to Zebedee Management which has a pioneering mission to represent models and actors with disabilities or alternative appearances. This talent agency was established in 2017 and now represents over 500 models and actors across Europe and the US. 

Zebedee Management says: “Disability is often left out of the diversity debate; we often receive briefs looking for ‘diversity’, but with no mention of disability, alternative appearances, or trans/non binary – and we want to change this. We want it to be the norm that REAL diverse media becomes commonplace.”

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ZEBEDEE X HUCKBOBDY COLLABORATION ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ THIS IS RENEE⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I was paralysed from the age of only 6 days old, and I then began to use a wheelchair from the age of 4.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Growing up with my disability from such a young age, my self-esteem and self-confidence was so low. I felt so different from everyone else and I didn’t see many people that looked like me, certainly not in the media or fashion industry anyway. Since I’ve begun my journey with Zebedee, I am now living a dream that I didn’t think could ever be made true. I’ve always wanted to be a part of creating better representation in the world, and having the opportunity to be a model now, has made that become a reality. I have grown so much further into self-acceptance and confidence since I have started this journey. I have grown to celebrate my disability and to own all of the things that make me who I am, rather than feeling insecure about them. Campaigns such as Disability awareness I feel are so impactful, as it gives everyone the opportunity to embrace and showcase all the beautiful things that make them amazingly unique. As well as reminding us why representation is so important. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Creative Direction & Production by HUCKBODY @huckbody_ assisted by Laura Huckbody @huckbody24 & India Proctor @indiaproctorr⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Photography by Darren Black @darren_black⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Videography by Dani Lanae @calltheshots__⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Post production by Chris Carr @carr4081 at Brain ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Make-up by Helen Brady @helenbradymua using Illamasqua @illamasqua assisted by Monica Montalvo @monicamontalvomua⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Hair by Mary Geoghegan @maryg.hair using Sebastian Professional @sebastianpro_official assisted by Annette Gray @nettgray #ZBD #TEAMZEBEDEE #ZEBEDEEMANAGEMENT #DISABILITYAWARENESS #MODELSWITHDISABILITIES #INCLUSIONREVOLUTION

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Zebedee set out to impact wider society. The founders, Laura and Lisa, say: “We are optimistic that this will make for a more caring society, and a nicer place for us all to live.”

With talent agencies, such as Zebedee, paving the way for the true representation of diversity this should be expressed in wider society. By representing disabled models this will change attitudes and assumptions about what disability and difference really is. Disability is no longer something assumed to be a setback but can also be a unique talent. You can read our full interview with Zebedee in Issue 52.

Every season The Fashion Spot’s Runway Diversity Report tracks inclusivity at fashion weeks at London, Paris, Milan and New York. There has been an overall increase in racial, size, age and gender diversity in recent years, but disability is never included. 

With fashion week set to return with live shows this September, let’s hope that there is increased inclusion, including disabled models on the catwalk. Let’s make this more than a seasonal trend and change for good. 

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