One in four adults in the United States is diagnosed with a disability, yet only around 0.02% of fashion and beauty campaigns feature people with disabilities. Now, an increasing number of young women with disabilities are working to revolutionize the global fashion industry.
Simply by being themselves, these models are making a strong statement that says all bodies are beautiful, and fashion is for everybody.
Faith Guilbault, a teen model from Bel Air, Maryland, has cerebral palsy and severe vision impairment. A group of permanent movement disorders, cerebral palsy is the most common childhood motor disability, the Cerebral Palsy Family Network explains.
In 2019, Faith walked the runway at New York Fashion week, modeling Adaptive, a new clothing line by Kohl’s specifically designed for people with disabilities. And that wasn’t her first time on the catwalk: she modeled for Tommy Hilfiger when she was 12 years old! The adaptive clothing line was designed to help Americans with disabilities live more independently. “Adaptive clothing [has] special snaps, special magnets,” explains Faith. “There’s all kinds of stuff to help you get your pants on and off and your shirt and stuff.” In addition to enhancing autonomy, adaptive clothing also increases confidence. People with disabilities can now join in on trends, and dress like their friends.
Ellie Goldstein is an English model diagnosed at birth with Down’s syndrome. At 15 years old, Ellie signed to Zebedee Management, an organization dedicated to increasing the representation of models with disabilities and alternative appearances. Not one to ever let her disability stand in the way of her aspirations, Ellie has experienced wild success, working for megabrands like Vodafone and Nike.
In 2019, Ellie was chosen to be the star of a Gucci Beauty campaign, modeling mascara. “It feels so amazing and fabulous to be part of the Gucci Beauty campaign. I feel so proud of myself, especially to have been chosen for this. When I look at the images, I feel happy with myself. All the likes and comments on social media across the world have been overwhelming,” Ellie told Vogue. “I enjoy being a role model. It shows that if you follow your hopes and dreams, you can achieve anything.”
A fashion aficionado from a young age, Jillian Mercado was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. A condition that weakens and damages the muscles — at the age of 13. Jillian got her big break in the fashion industry when she was cast in a Diesel campaign. Since then, she’s starred in ads for Nordstrom, Calvin Klein fragrance, Olay, Tommy Hilfiger, and Target. She’s even featured in a campaign for Ivy Park, Beyoncé’s activewear line.
Now Jillian is an activist. She recently met with the United Nations Secretary-General to discuss ways to eliminate inequality among women and girls with disabilities.
The need for better representation in the fashion and beauty industry can no longer be ignored. These inspiring models are just some of the latest trail blazers part of this new wave of diversity.