Rachel Fieldhouse

Beauty & Style

”Fix the system not me”: A first for Australian Fashion Week

”Fix the system not me”: A first for Australian Fashion Week

In a first for the yearly week-long display of new Aussie fashion, adaptive clothing has taken the fore through a show solely focused on the underrepresented sphere of fashion.

Day four of Australian Fashion Week saw a collective of designers take to the runway with fashionable garments that can be worn by both abled and disabled people and were modelled by the very people who inspired them.

JAM and Christine Stephens, two designers whose designs were featured, share a mutual goal: to act as a voice for the adaptive designers collective and highlight the possibilities for stylish fashion that is inclusive.

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“We want to give people living with disabilities a choice. A choice in fashion, a choice to be included and a choice to be heard,” Jessie Sadler and Carol Taylor, two designers for Christine Stephens, said in a press release.

Taylor, the co-owner and lead designer of the fashion label, said the collection was inspired by a quadriplegic groom-to-be who “would never know what it would be like to unwrap his able-bodied bride”.

Models with disabilities took to the runway for the Adaptive Clothing Collective show. Image: Getty Images

The outfits included multiple adaptive features, such as particularly magnetic button closures and zips to improve access for prosthetic users and even particularly contrasting colour choices.

One model’s outfit, a sky-blue two-piece suit with contrasting magenta collars and inner linings, was inspired by their visual impairment that prevents them from distinguishing between darker colours, as reported by Elle Australia.

The runway featured disabled models throughout the show, including actress Chloé Hayden, who told Refinery29 being asked to participate was an “out of this world” experience.

“I grew up practising my model walk, doing personal little photo shoots, going to those Dolly model searches … I’m always jaw dropping at Australian Fashion Week,” she told the publication.

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Following her appearance in the show, where she wore olive utility-style boots and a trench coat with the slogan ‘Fix the system, not me’, Hayden took to Instagram to share clips and her excitement.

“Australian Fashion Week’s first adaptive runway. Let it not be the last,” she captioned the post. “More posts to come once I stop projectile crying and stimming.”

Lisa Cox, an author, consultant and disability influencer who modelled for Christina Stephens, said the opportunity made her feel “seen” by the industry.

“I feel more accepted and I feel seen by an industry that I haven’t felt a part of since I became disabled over 16 years ago … I feel both honoured and privileged to be part of such a landmark event in Australian fashion history,” she told Refinery29.

Cox added that the absence of inclusivity in fashion has left her feeling unimportant and uncatered for - which she noted was also bad for those in the clothing business.

“[It’s] offensive and it really hurts,” she said. 

“But on the other hand, people with disabilities are consumers too so that attitude is just bad business. My legs don’t work but my credit card does!”

Emma Clegg and Molly Rogers, the creators of JAM the label, said the “universal design” of adaptive clothing is more comfortable, convenient and accessible for everyone, and encourage non-disabled people to also give them a try.

"Purchasing from and supporting Australian inclusive [and] adaptive fashion brands will prove to the Australian fashion industry that there is the demand out there, and they need to be including people with disability throughout their businesses,” they told Refinery29.

“It shouldn't be newsworthy that there is a designer with disabilities or clothes for people with disabilities at AAFW, but for now it must be celebrated,” Cox said. 

Whether you approach the issue from a position of fairness or business, with 20 percent of Australians living with a disability, it makes sense to design clothing that can be worn and enjoyed by everyone - and hopefully this show is just the first of many more.

Here's a look at the styles appearing at the show.

Image: Getty Images