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The Age Of Accessibility: Exploring The Power Of Disability Visibility In Fashion

On September 14, the Runway of Dreams Foundation, a non-profit organization that works toward a future of inclusion in the fashion industry for people with physical disabilities, hosted its first virtual fashion show at New York Fashion Week. Models showcased the adaptive clothing lines of Tommy Hilfiger and Zappos—among a growing number of brands answering the demand for accessibility in fashion. The event is telling of a pivotal moment in an industry where opportunities for disability visibility are increasing. For those living with physical disabilities, the progress has been a long time coming.

Sweater, top, jacket, and mask by IZ Adaptive; earrings and ring by Steff Eleoff.

Shopping for clothes became an exhaustive chore for Fazila Ikram when she first started using a wheelchair, post-spinal cord injury. Styled in IZ Adaptive—Canadian designer Izzy Camilleri’s ready-to-wear apparel brand designed for adults living with physical disabilities—the Toronto model has found new confidence through adaptive clothing. Part of the brand’s campaign for over four years now, Ikram says this confidence “comes from being comfortable, looking my best, and knowing that the outfit was totally made for me.” As a designer crafting that confidence, Camilleri began working in adaptive clothing after styling the late Canadian journalist Barbara Turnbull, who also used a wheelchair. “Designers are unaware that there are specific clothing needs,” says Camilleri. “Working with [Turnbull] opened my eyes to how little there was clothing-wise for this demographic.” The inspiration launched Toronto-based IZ Adaptive into pioneer status for accessibility in fashion. The brand recently made buzz yet again with the release of the Lip Reader Face Mask—a non-medical face covering with a transparent panel for people who rely on lip-reading as part of communication.

Sweater, top, jacket, pants, and mask by IZ Adaptive; earrings and ring by Steff Eleoff; shoes by Michael Michael Kors; bag by Fendi.

After Ikram was photographed wearing the innovative garment for S/, her take on the mask is that it offers not only practicality but also a “fashion statement and symbol of inclusivity.” Adaptive clothing holds the ability to normalize the experiences of people living with physical disabilities in a world that oftentimes others them, and it’s clear that when room is made for accessibility in fashion, the impact extends beyond functionality.

Jacket, shirt, skirt, and hat by IZ Adaptive; bag by Dior; earrings, stylist’s own.

According to model Rachel Romu, “It’s so powerful to see yourself in the look before you even try it on”; they add that they “began dressing with the intent to fade into the background” upon starting to use a cane full-time following a rare Ehlers–Danlos syndrome diagnosis. The power and invincibility in choosing to be seen instead of hiding has propelled their modelling career into history-making territory. As the first model with a mobility aid to walk Toronto Fashion Week, Romu has come a long way from fading into the background. “Fashion has been a part of my life that has not only welcomed my disability but given me room for all the other parts of me. I never thought I’d be shooting with someone like Maya Fuhr, in Izzy Camilleri and IZ Adaptive, Chanel, and Christian Dior—it still feels a little too good to be true, and I’m so incredibly thankful.”

Full look by Louis Vuitton; tights, stylist’s own.

As the age of accessibility in fashion establishes its permanency on and off the runway, the future of innovative and thought-provoking adaptive clothing is in the hands of the designers taking on this newer market. For IZ Adaptive’s Izzy Camilleri, it is innately so. She describes adaptive clothing as “thought-provoking, no matter the pie365ce, as it’s a relatively new category in the fashion world.” And with the adaptive clothing market predicted to reach nearly $400 billion in the next five years, the floodgates have opened for designers to follow Camilleri’s lead. “I’ve invested so much with regard to time and resources, not to mention blood, sweat and tears,” she says. “I’m going to see this as far as I can take it.”

Shirt, sweater, scarf, and bag by Dior; pants by IZ Adaptive; earrings and ring by Steff Eleoff.
Dress by IZ Archive; ring by Steff Eleoff; necklace and bag by Spencer Badu; shoes by Dior.
Full look by CHANEL.

Photography by Maya Fuhr
Models: Rachel Romu at Plutino Models and Fazila Ikram
Styling by Bobby Bowen
Hair and Makeup by Ronnie Tremblay at P1M using Dior Makeup and Kevin Murphy
Photo Assistant: Chris Levett
Stylist Assistant: Summer Ruddock-Ellis
Hair Assistant: Kaila Baker at P1M
Special thanks to Izzy Camilleri and IZ Adaptive