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Study shows: disabled people are an emerging market for fashion

By May-Anne Oltmans


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People who have a disability are generally thought of as a niche market within the fashion industry. Yet, a study which was led by Nottingham Trent University (NTU) lecturer Julian Wing has proven that this market holds a lot of potential for growth.

“Disabled people are not accepted in many areas of mainstream fashion,” believes Wing, who is connected to NTU´s school of Art & Design. “It is a world of perfection and beauty, and disabled people are largely left out of the marketing and promotion campaigns of big brands.” However, Wing believes that this is a missed chance. “With a population of 1.1 billion, people with disabilities are an emerging market equal to the size of China.”

According to Wing, the combination of aging populations and increasing life expectancies of people who are disabled means that this segment will become increasingly important in the future. He also believes that advances in technology, such as 3D-printing, provides fashion brands with the opportunity to create customised products for people with a disability. Furthermore, he thinks that these advances will make it less expensive to create well-fitting items for disabled people.

Wing acknowledges that there are a number of companies which currently create apparel for disabled people, but notes the problem with most of these companies is that they solely pay attention to the technical side of clothing, whilst losing sight of the latest fashion trends.

The study that Wing carried out consisted of a literature review of existing research in combination with comments from disabled people. Additionally, he could draw on his own experiences from participating in the Awear project: an initiative to bring retailers and disabled people together.

“There is a distinct lack of research in the area and one of my recommendations is that more work needs to be done. I am proposing to undertake some research in 2016 to speak with disabled people to get their view on access to the right fashion products, levels of customer service and satisfaction and the potential of customization and collaboration in the development of fashion products,” said Wing.

Image credit: Spd.org

Nottingham Trent University