Last week, our resident Love Island and disability advocate Louise Bruton wrote a piece that made me stop in my tracks. As a wheelchair user, she sees the world in an extraordinarily different light. As a non-wheelchair user, it's easy for me to take for granted daily tasks that people with limited mobility find difficult (stepping onto a path, shopping for trend-driven fashion, dating etc). If I was ever to become wheelchair-bound, I think with time I could learn to cope with transport and the general difficulties that come with being disabled in Ireland. I would adapt. What I would struggle with is creating my own identity through fashion, simply because the lack of choice available. Louise's piece struck a chord with me because she has had to compromise her personal style for comfort and form for much of her life. Thankfully, more brands are actively listening to what women – of all abilities, not just able-bodied and disabled – need from their wardrobe and there is a real change on the horizon for the entire fashion industry.
It pushed me into action to try and find brands suitable for all wearers and today, as though Bill Gates himself is listening to me, the internet provided. American brand American Eagle – remember them? The sister brand to Abercrombie And Fitch? – is doing what more brands should be by offering inclusive ranges that are actually suitable for all women. And I mean all women. The brand's collection features not just a wheelchair user, but a hard-of-hearing woman, a woman with vitiligo, a woman with scars and type 1 diabetes, a woman with Down Syndrome, women with and without hair, and even a woman with a colostomy bag. Inclusivity is about encompassing and including all types of humanity, and American Eagle is doing it with an attitude that's hard to ignore.
The Aerie boho lace bra, €17.05, featuring a model wheelchair user. Source www.ae.com
Aerie boho bandeau, €17.05 Source www.ae.com
What's even more important about this otherwise ordinary collection is that intimates are often the forgotten-about necessity. Is there anything more uncomfortable than sitting down all day in underwear that isn't comfortable or doesn't fit as it should? As someone with an invisible disability, I understand and sympathise with other women who can't find the right intimates. I have a scar on my right ribcage from constantly wearing ill-fitting bras that, although they make my chest look nice, they are incredibly uncomfortable to wear. Finding a bra that is suited to my lifestyle and shape is important, but feeling sexy when my clothes come off is equally important. These women – who all carry scars in some shape or form – wear their intimates with radiating confidence and they look genuinely happy and very real (and comfortable!). In 2014, the brand publically banned the use of airbrushing on all of their campaigns resulting in a 20% increase in profits and a flood of media positivity. So hello fashion industry - why aren't more brands taking the same direction?
Real sunnie lightly wired bra, €25.57. Source www.ae.com
Real me full coverage lightly lined bra, €25.57. Sourced at www.ae.com
Yes, change is imminent. This isn't inspirational, click-bait-porn kind of change, but actual awareness and social awareness of what women (and men) need from clothing and lifestyle brands. It shouldn't come as a shock or be a major talking point in 2018, the year of inclusivity, that a brand has created a product suitable for everyone, but it does. But with more extraordinary women like Sinéad Burke, who is working with the likes of Burberry to make the fashion industry more inclusive, and Canadian designer Izzy Camilleri’s “perfect fit” IZ Adaptive clothing line, the future looks incredibly bright.
To normalize what isn't seen as "normal", we have to keep having these conversations; we forget the very real power of words to incite action. AE has cleverly created a product that works for every woman. What's more, the brand has achieved it in an under-the-radar kind of way, which is a fresh approach to an overly saturated market of do-gooders. Kudos to AE, it's worth keeping a close eye on them.