Skip to content
Advertisements

Why The High Street Still Isn’t Doing Enough For Disabled Consumers

June 19, 2019

In December, on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that the government was recruiting six “disability champions” to help “tackle the issues disabled people face as consumers”.

One of these positions was reserved for a fashion disability champion who would, the DWP claimed, “open industry doors”. Five new champions were appointed on schedule; in the fields of brand and design; countryside and heritage; products and spaces; technology; and web accessibility. The champion for the fashion industry was absent.

The DWP explained that during a seven-week recruitment process the vacancy was advertised in the fashion trade press, directly to fashion brands and on social media. No applications were received, and the department is now reviewing its recruitment procedure. Yet for many of those with disabilities, this initial outcome will be disappointing.

“I don’t feel that the doors have ever been open for people with disabilities,” says the TV presenter and activist Sophie Morgan, who presented Channel 4’s coverage of the 2016 Paralympic Games. Despite some fashion retailers, including River Island and Primark, making what Morgan says are “great strides”, the overall experience both online and in-store “remains a negative one” for disabled clothes shoppers.

Morgan spearheaded the Mannequal campaign, which urged fashion retailers to include mannequins in wheelchairs as part of window displays, to act as a much-needed “sign to disabled consumers that this particular retailer has considered, and will attempt to meet, their needs”. But, she says, more should be done.

Due to her activist endeavours and role in the television coverage of the Paralympics, Morgan may well have been a prime candidate to take on the job of fashion disability champion. Despite this, she had never heard about the initiative.

The Team GB Paralympian Chloe Ball-Hopkins, who collaborated with Asos in 2018 to develop festival wear designed to accommodate the needs of wheelchair users, agrees that fashion is letting disabled shoppers down.

She sees “a few companies making good ground” but still finds that when she goes clothes shopping she will often “struggle to reach half the clothes on the racks due to the height”.

Ball-Hopkins hadn’t heard of the position being advertised either, and was similarly surprised it hadn’t attracted interest.

But Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, doesn’t think the position remains unfilled due to a lack of effort on the DWP’s part, although he does feel that the British fashion industry is “missing a trick by not doing enough to cater to disabled consumers”.

Although fashion for disabled people has been overlooked thus far, a champion for retail was appointed in 2018. This, alongside campaigns such as Mannequal, may have led to retailers improving physical accessibility to shops – but Morgan has found, when shopping for clothes, that a warm welcome rarely awaits people with disabilities.

“We may just be lucky enough to gain physical access to the retail space,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean we feel welcome and able to fully engage.”

She likens the experience of clothes shopping to the scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts’ newly affluent character returns to a boutique in which she was once humiliated to flaunt the commission the sales assistants will never receive. “She comes back with the immortal line: ‘Big mistake … HUGE,’” Morgan recounts. “I feel like saying that so often! We have money, we want to spend it the same as anyone else, why stop us?”

This is an area where activists and the DWP agree. Both parties say businesses aren’t doing enough to earn the “purple pound”, the £249bn disabled consumers spend each year.

“If brands want to capitalise on the disabled consumer market, they must first improve representation of disabled people in fashion,” says Tomlinson. “Whether that’s in advertising campaigns or on the catwalk.”

Advertisements
No comments yet

What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: