By Kristopher Fraser
Increasing diversity has been a major problem and an even bigger headline issue for the fashion industry over the last several years. The movement for models of different ethnic backgrounds and different body types has certainly been getting their voice heard, and change seems to be coming slowly and incrementally, but a different face of diversity is now making headlines. Jillian Mercado, a 26-year-old New Yorker who suffers from muscular dystrophy, has been signed with IMG models.
Mercado’s muscular dystrophy has left her in a wheelchair, but she is not known as the model in the wheelchair; she’s the model who was the star of Diesel’s 2014 campaign. Mercado is a fashion editor and blogger who managed to win the attention of Diesel’s artistic director Nicola Formichetti who made the decision to feature instead of hide her wheelchair in the campaign photos. While Mercado may seem like she just got lucky with the Diesel campaign, she has had a longtime relationship with the world of fashion.
She graduated from FIT where she worked as a fit model for friends because she easily fit into sample sizes. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, she once stated that professional modeling never seemed like “a possibility” with her disability, but she became a surprise sensation. After the Diesel campaign she managed to land a gig at major department store chain Nordstrom.
In addition to her new modeling duties, Mercado is also a front row regular at NYFW, which is also produced by her new modeling agency IMG. Mercado is just one of many impressive up and coming models who are proof that the fashion industry is slowly becoming more inclusive of people with disabilities. Jamie Brewer, an actress and activist who is probably better known to the public for her roles in “American Horror Story,” strut the runway at NYFW.
Brewer got to strut down the runway in designer Carrie Hammer’s “Role Models Not Runway Models” fashion show which is meant to showcase powerful professional women like CEO’s, entrepreneurs, actresses and writers modeling clothes instead of traditional runway models. In 2014, Hammer’s show featured the first model in a wheelchair, Ms. Wheelchair New York 2012, Danielle Sheypuk herself.
“”People with disabilities are an untapped consumer market in terms of fashion,” Sheypuk, a clinical psychologist in New York, told the Huffington Post. “We read the magazines, shop in stores, but nothing is ever pitched to us.” Sheypuk has used a wheelchair since she was 2 years old, and has an interest in designer fashion since the vigors of her youth, but always found that the industry was clearly lacking role models.
The upcoming generation of fashionistas will finally have some impressive ladies to look up to who didn’t let their disabilities stop them from pursuing their fashion dreams, but the gentleman will also have some people to look up to as well. Jack Eyers, a male amputee model, participated in the FLT Moda show last February during New York Fashion Week. In addition to Eyers, Blake Leeper, a Paralympian double amputee walked in Naomia Campbell’s Fashion for Relief charity runway show.
For an event all about charity, Campbell made sure that she was inclusive of almost everybody having one of the most diverse runway shows all of NYFW featuring models on multiple ethnic backgrounds, amputees and people with different disabilities. Fashion for Relief was the runway show that showcased what many hoped the fashion industry will eventually become: representative of people from nearly every walk of life. At the end of the day, the overall industry still has a long way to go, but there are certainly efforts being made to finally represent the unsung disabled fans of the industry and make the place for them that they have long deserved.