Disabled Models and Designers Take Center Stage at New York Fashion Week

Courtesy of Double Take
Courtesy of Double Take

New York Fashion Week’s runways have become progressively more diverse over the past several seasons. Still, one group is only just starting to see more representation at Fashion Week: the disabled community.

Gabriella Santaniello is the founder and CEO of A Line Partners, a retail research firm investors turn to for help investing in brands and the fashion industry. In addition to her passion for retail, she is also passionate about disability rights and representation.

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She said in terms of trying to get fashion brands to listen to the issues the disabled community faces and bringing in more disabled representation, brands need to see this as a revenue driver.

“It’s unfortunate and horrible to say to get these brands to listen about disabled accommodation and representation we need, they need to see it as adding to their revenue,” Santaniello said. “It shouldn’t be that way, but the potential for brands to succeed in the disabled market is huge. I don’t understand why they can’t just get on board, and it drives me berserk.”

Open Style Lab, a nonprofit organization committed to making style accessible for everyone regardless of physical abilities, is helping fight for this representation. This season as a prelude to New York Fashion Week, the organization is debuting a first-of-its-kind runway show called Double Take, which aims to increase disability visibility and champion adaptive fashion.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Annika Hutsler poses during A Fashion Revolution by Runway of Dreams at The Majestic Downtown on March 8, 2022, in Los Angeles, California.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Jerod Harris/Getty for Runway of Dreams Foundation</div>

Annika Hutsler poses during A Fashion Revolution by Runway of Dreams at The Majestic Downtown on March 8, 2022, in Los Angeles, California.

Jerod Harris/Getty for Runway of Dreams Foundation

Double Take was created for the broader disability community by the spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) community, and their runway show will see all models with SMA grace the runways.

“Disability visibility is one of the areas that needs to be more integrated into mainstream culture,” the organization’s CEO Grace Jun said. “We have to keep trying to put more people of different backgrounds on the runway because that’s a great place for it to start.”

This year, Open Style Lab’s fellows who are designing for Double Take were chosen from around the world, and 80 percent of them are disabled themselves. In a statement e-mailed to The Daily Beast, Andrea Saleh, one of this year’s fellows, said, “Thanks to the support of Genentech, Double Take gave me the opportunity to explore forward-thinking fashion designs that are inclusive of people of all abilities. I collaborated with several people living with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) to co-create accessible garments that fit both their personalities and their individual needs, including Shane Burcaw, who has SMA and uses a power wheelchair.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Matthew and Mike Fernandez onstage during A Fashion Revolution by Runway of Dreams at The Majestic Downtown on March 8, 2022, in Los Angeles, California.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Jerod Harris/Getty for Runway of Dreams Foundation</div>

Matthew and Mike Fernandez onstage during A Fashion Revolution by Runway of Dreams at The Majestic Downtown on March 8, 2022, in Los Angeles, California.

Jerod Harris/Getty for Runway of Dreams Foundation

Mindy Scheier, the founder of Runway of Dreams Foundation, an organization empowering people with disabilities through fashion, was inspired to start her organization because of her son who has muscular dystrophy. Now, she also focuses on helping champion the next generation of designers.

“One thing that I always try to tell people is that disability could happen to any of us at any stage of our lives,” Scheier said. “The industry is no question starting to get better about disabled representation, and brands are slowly starting to treat adaptive fashion for disabled people as a category no different than plus-size or petite. Runway of Dreams now uses the money we raise through our shows for scholarships for people focused on careers in adaptive fashion. We also partner with over 20 college clubs and universities to engage them in the adaptive fashion movement. Adaptive fashion is starting to become an incredibly important category in the industry.”

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