Larissa Mariano sits down with Samanta Bullock to discuss inclusive fashion and how the journey towards fashion for everyone continues.
LARISSA: Samanta, to start this conversation, you currently have several titles: from sport with wheelchair tennis to the fashion world, how would you define yourself? Who is Samanta Bullock?
SAMANTA: I took on many roles: in sport, as a wheelchair tennis player, I’m a doubles silver medallist at the 2007 ParaPanAm Games and competed in three world championships for Brazil. As a model, I have done fashion shows in some of the main fashion weeks in the world: London Fashion Week, Dubai
Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week. I can also define myself as a speaker. But my whole history, career in sport, and the return to fashion brings me a new definition: my name is Samanta Bullock, I am Brazilian and I live in London. I am the founder and owner of SB Shop, an inclusive fashion shop with a vision to see the lack of knowledge related to inclusion and to work to change that, to bring knowledge and education, and to normalise it. We also have a fashion show called London Represents that happens during London Fashion Week, where we promote diversity, sustainability, and inclusion
LARISSA: How did you bring your own experience to create your shop?
SAMANTA: I didn’t have a specific moment when that happened. It was a path. I started with my own experience, with what I went through in my routine and, at some point, it was stronger than me, it started to move. And I knew that, until then, there was no fashion that thought about the pieces I needed. To make items easier to wear, a jacket a little shorter to make it easier in the wheelchair. But tennis gave me a bigger view of it: it was when I started competing in world championships, living with so many people with other disabilities that I started to understand other needs – and they range from someone who uses orthotics, crutches, or someone who spends a lot of time in bed. Fashion is a tool that needs to work for everyone – and we believe in education for that to happen, whether through representativeness or the pieces we create, which are always guided by universal design.
LARISSA: Talking about the pieces: what is the creation process?
SAMANTA: The whole process always takes place in a very organic way. At the beginning, there were eight designers, all friends, and we sat down to talk. Once again, everything is very much based on experience as we still have a lack of data on people with disabilities, so we need to experiment, because it is different for each need. And working with each designer is also like this; diverse. We need to immerse ourselves, get to know what each of them is already doing in their work and think about how we can make this inclusive. We have many validation steps too, always looking at it as a laboratory for learning and experimenting: we already had, during a photo session, just a pilot piece of a jumpsuit that has a zipper (it separates top and pants), but that, positioned behind, one of our models could not open. So, we moved to the side and, even so, we are always testing to reach the final result.
LARISSA: What is London Represents, and how does it complement the SB Shop?
SAMANTA: London Represents Fashion Show is a fashion show that takes place during London Fashion Week and has its ethos in sustainability, diversity, and inclusion. We know that together with the creating of the pieces we also need to invest in representation and it is one of the main goals of the event. Our diverse runway has been recognised worldwide and was referred to in the Daily Mail as “the pivotal moment” of Fashion Week.
Basically, London Represents is here to disrupt the fashion industry. For many years we tried to implement this change, talking with brands, universities, and show organisers without success, so we decided to take action ourselves. We believe we are the change, we are creating it, a space of connection, of belonging and reality. Fashion is a vehicle for this dream, a previously impossible, unachievable thing to achieve. That we want to make real; perfection is imperfection.
Tickets are available on Eventbrite for the event on the 17th September. It will take place at the National Liberal Club. A whole day of fashion and celebration.
LARISSA: What do you think are the main changes, in order to have a more inclusive fashion?
SAMANTA: If we don’t have a product and it is necessary, we will need to invent it. And we will need to live together for that to actually happen, to have the good result that we hope for. We cannot create what we do not know, it is very necessary to understand these needs that the consumer or the fashion sector itself has. And it is in this space that representativeness is so important – currently, we have data that only 0.1% of people with disabilities are represented in fashion. We know that several related actions have already taken place, but they need to be constant, frequent, and very natural. A good example that we can move forward is the quarantine period we have been through: as several people had to adapt to the home office, spend even more time sitting, we saw that we need more comfortable clothes for this position; this is inclusive fashion. That is why we need to be seen to exist in this sector, even to be considered as a consumer, even though the economic power of people with disabilities generates three trillion dollars. I believe that representation is the starting point for all this change that needs to happen. Fashion is a tool for social transformation: and the entire industry needs to understand this — that’s why we believe so much in education.
LARISSA: We are talking about fashion with purpose. How does it connect to what you do?
SAMANTA: The purpose is what makes me see that what I do is much bigger than me. Wherever you go, you don’t see anyone without clothes. Fashion reaches 100% of people, including any minority, from the elderly to the disabled. And I believe that fashion cannot be selective: it needs to work globally. That is what we are talking about when we say that inclusion is one of the pillars of sustainability, that we are always within a purpose where we all want to change, to create a better planet. And to do this, as I said before, using social tools.
We want to make sure that diversity and inclusion are natural in this process; this comes from the beginning of everything with me; in the team we are a family that believes in the same things and this is reflected in each of the projects we create.
LARISSA: And, what are these projects?
SAMANTA: With London Represents we support the social projects that we believe align with us. We have Bullock Inclusion, a CIC (Community Interest Company), which brings together all the social projects we do. We started with the SB Challenge, which came from the idea of expanding the Vogue Challenge.
I thought why not see all the diversity on the magazine covers? We invited people with disabilities (or who supported the cause of diversity) to put themselves on their favourite magazine covers and, when publishing on social media, use #SBChallenge, to be able to bring this together. And we had incredible testimonials, from people who started to accept their disabilities more from that challenge, or who had never taken a photo using orthotics, crutches and, from that moment on, had the courage to be who they really were.
London Runway also embraced the challenge – they gave us loads of visibility and the most beautiful cover magazine on their Gold edition. We had over one million impressions. We have now transformed it into an eBook, which is free to download on our website with stories, reports, and photos from everyone that was part of it. This is the main purpose: to educate about perceptions about diversity. It was also based on this that, during London Fashion Week, which reinvented itself to happen online, we decided to create a film with our models, who are real people, with the most diverse differences and create our own fashion week: SB Fashion Week. We called the film I’mperfection and launched the first version last year, with each model telling a little about their realities, perceptions, and provoking this reflection: why not think differently about it? In September, we brought the fashion movie version: everyone on the catwalk, to literally show diversity on the catwalk, with the vibrant sound of Dragon, by Lachi.
This February ‘22 we had a project called #Irepresent, that we launched with London Represents. With this one, we created an Instagram filter with a catwalk and invited people to be part of our show, and we displayed the whole videos as part of our runway on the day.
LARISSA: And how does this cycle continue? What do we need to pay more attention to from now on?
SAMANTA: Always keep information. We need to research: and this research is something very human, in contact with each other, to live together, talk and, in the middle of this talk, understand: what are the needs? What can we do to evolve to include more people?