Double Take adaptive runway asks industry to look again at DEI commitment
The Double Take runway show was a unique event which precluded New York Fashion Week by one day. Sponsored by Genentech to promote disability visibility, it featured models from the SMA community who collaborated with Open Style Lab, the nationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to creating functional yet stylish solutions for and with Disabled people.
Opening the show was singer/songwriter/actor James Ian wearing a pink tailored suit emblazoned on the back with howling wolf embroidery. “Fashion is one of the ways that people get an impression of you without you having to say anything, through your clothing and style choices,” Ian told FashionUnited. “Fashion is a way to show the world who you really are.”
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a progressive neuromuscular disease that can impair walking, dexterity, and overall strength creating different needs for wearers depending on body type as is the case within the larger disabled community. Some members use wheelchairs, and pants or dresses that bunch up at the seat are uncomfortable, while for others, sleeves and buttons can be unmanageable.
Shane and Hannah Burcaw, an interabled couple who have 1 million followers on their YouTube channel Squirmy and Grubbs, made a glamorous impression as they rolled and walked the runway. Shane’s sleek purple tailoring featured hidden innovations which Open Style Lab fellow Jenna Dewar, who co-designed the suit with him, described to FashionUnited backstage. The pants have two layers, the inside one in stretch fabric designed in an L-shape to reduce the surplus bulk not needed for someone who remains in a seated position, while the outer velvet layer is snapped on top rendering the item interchangeable for different seasons or looks, from casual to formal.
Disability community neglected in most DEI initiatives
The stylish ribbing detail on Joe Lakhman’s edgy red leather jacket conceals a series of snaps which allow the wearer to remove sleeves for easier dressing while also enabling them to choose between a vest or jacket option. This level of innovation and possibility should be of great interest to the fashion industry but, said Dewar, “For representation, disability is the last group to be included, and in most cases those that arbitrate in the media have an able-bodied perspective. We know, we’ve learned, how harmful it is to not include everyone’s voices. I hope that more shows become representative of society and therefore more inspirational.”
As on most fashion runways, the appearance of kids tends to steal the show as was the case when a waving Céline Domalski in a shimmering silver flapper dress with expandable side panels was accompanied by her mother Amber Joi, or when Otto Knutson rolled down the runway in his turquoise popsicle-printed suit gazing directly into the face of every member of the front row. Shoulder gussets aided his arm motion and openings in the jacket and shirt provided g-tube access.
Each Double Take collaboration between wearer and designer arose from dialogue centering around how members of the disabled community typically hack their clothes to meet their needs. Ian would love to see some of his favorite brands such as All Saints, Palm Angels or Dolce & Gabbana introduce adaptive fashion. “A lot of the adaptive clothing is fairly limited in terms of style,” he said. “It might be geared to more casual or preppier style and I would like to see more streetwear or elegant formalwear.”
Disability visibility drives first-of-its-kind Double Take runway show
“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done but what we’re doing this week is helping to reinforce the reality that we are a huge chunk of the population,” said Ian. For Fall 2022 wheelchair-using model Aaron Philip made her runway debut for Moschino during Milan Fashion Week and in the past several years the conversation around Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity in the fashion industry has heated up. But for Ian, a Disabled Black man, he can’t help feeling that none of it is happening fast enough. "My peers think the disabled community has been left out of the DEI conversation, they feel that it’s still not getting the attention it deserves. We can go a lot farther with it within the broader conversation.”
For this reason the Double Take show is so important within the New York Fashion Week conversation and it gives Ian hope that progress is possible: “I’m excited to be part of the initiatives to try to move the needle forward.”
Sponsor, Genentech, a biotechnology company which makes medicine for different therapy areas, has previously created initiatives within the music industry but this is the company’s first foray into fashion. “Part of what we do is to try to go beyond the medicine and create programs for the communities we serve,” said Adam Pryor, Genentech Corporate Relations. “When it comes to SMA, a topic that kept coming to the front in every conversation was around fashion and inclusivity, so this sits within our SMA My Way program which is our broader commitment to the SMA community.”
Now the question is: Will the broader fashion industry step up its commitment to the fashion-hungry consumers within the disability community?