A good side of the era we live in is that democracy and the notions that it implies are almost universally applicable. You can seek out democracy anywhere. But to analyze fashion from a democratic perspective, we first need to define what it means for us in this article and take a non-traditional approach to democracy, much like the non-traditional approach we take to fashion.
Not much thought is actually given to the philosophy behind fashion today. It’s definitely more than what it used to be, but still, as someone involved in the adaptive fashion industry, I feel a large room for improvement in this area. The emergence of adaptive clothing and the increasing emphasis put on it by brands like us and others has definitely helped, too.
Democracy is the process of involving the edges of the periphery into the process. It means giving a voice to members of an entity, be it a small community or a group, a large nation, a big corporation, or the society at large. Traditionally, it’s looked for in governments and politics. We read the news every day about some dictator trying to block another social media outlet, a jailed journalist, or a mass protest somewhere in the world. These are the most talked and most linked issues to democracy.
But in a very specific sense, adaptive fashion itself is a democratic movement. Let’s think for a moment about the big fashion industry. You walk into a store, either at a mall or in a boutique shop. You stand in front of stacks of the same piece, different sizes, different colors, different patterns. What you are not going to find there is clothing for a segment of society that desperately needs it, clothing for the disabled. Retailers and high fashion brands all across don’t like to think about persons with disabilities. They’re much like a dictator, they tend to dictate the market what’s there for sale and what’s there to be worn this season. Because there’re no voting or elections in fashion, retailers don’t need to go extra lengths to provide for everyone. They certainly don’t have to do that, but from a business perspective, that is not the right thing to do. It’s much like forgoing large sums of money but it also carries a social responsibility and consequence with it. Politicians, once elected into the office, shouldn’t leave out any groups outside their policies. When they do their politician jobs, they need to take into account the interest of many stakeholders and the exact groups that voted them into the office in the first place. Applying adaptive clothing to this example, fashion brands shouldn’t leave out persons with disabilities outside their work. But the reality is different, and unfortunately, its root causes are in the social and cultural patterns that are woven into our modern society.
Back in the day, fashion was only for the high echelons of society. The royal families, the rich, the wealthy, the privileged got to have trendy, stunning clothing. They could afford them, unlike many others in the same society, and it implied their social status. What they were wearing was a sign of who they were, which class they belonged to, and the color of their collar. Rapid industrialization changed this for sure. In a sense, it made fashion more democratic because now that it became cheaper than ever to produce mass clothing, most people got to have good looking, fashionable, trendy things to wear. And you couldn’t tell their class, their wealth, their status from their clothing. When talking about democracy in fashion, this is exactly what comes to most people’s minds and what you find on the internet.
The class difference was and still is prevalent in this industry but much less than yesterday, or the day before. But inclusion regardless of our abilities don’t tend to come to minds, and I think that’s where the problem is. Taking a multi-dimensional view on democracy and applying that towards all layers of society is much more desirable as it can show us what needs to improve about the industry we work in.
Eliminating (or at least the effort made) the class difference in fashion was but one step towards the real inclusion and full-scale democracy in this industry. But disability fashion and thinking about the needs of persons with disabilities is yet another milestone to reach. When we are thinking about it, there isn’t many options when it comes to adaptive fashion. There isn’t very many reasonable alternatives to clothing specifically accommodating the needs of the differently-abled. What can replace adaptive fashion? Our products are not a luxury, on the other hand, they’re a necessity. Our selling point is not that adaptive clothing looks good, addressing social problems or etc, it’s because there’s a good amount of people whose lives can be much easier because of our products. Adaptive clothing is able to have an enormous impact on its beneficiaries. That’s why I feel so strongly about its importance and advocate for it to go more mainstream than it does now.
To conclude, I am also feeling very optimistic about the future of adaptive fashion. It’s gaining momentum more and more every day. It’s reaching more people as a result of the relentless effort of adaptive fashion brands and of course, persons with disabilities. The future is always uncertain, but from how I see it, it’s also going to be very inclusive and democratic. At least, for fashion.
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