Entertainment Style Call for diversity as Aussie model with disability prepares for catwalk at New York Fashion Week
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Call for diversity as Aussie model with disability prepares for catwalk at New York Fashion Week

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Model, advocate and media professional Lisa Cox says Australia lags shamefully behind the rest of the world in diversity in the fashion industry.

The move towards inclusive marketing and body positivity is more pronounced in 2020 than any year that has come before it.

And yet there are still huge gaps, particularly in Australian media and marketing, that continue to lock out certain people.

“Even though we have been good at putting other sorts of diversity forward, so skin colour, size and those sorts of things, when it comes to visible disability, there’s silence – there’s nothing,” Ms Cox told The New Daily. 

Ms Cox is currently gearing up for one of the biggest fashion events on the planet: New York Fashion Week.

Like many events affected by the chaos of the global pandemic, part of NYFW will be held virtually this year.

And while her inclusion is an exciting personal achievement and “a bit of fun”, the event is also a stark reminder of how far Australia has to go.

“It’s been happening overseas for years and years and years,” she said.

“I have friends with disabilities who have been to New York, to Milan, to other parts of the world, to London fashion week and things like that.

“And it’s just as it should be – it’s no big deal to see someone with disabilities on the catwalk and get included in the show, but over here we are a bit behind and it’s a bit embarrassing.

“Places like the US and the UK are years and decades ahead of us when it comes to representation. 

“We’re so backwards in our thinking and we like to think of ourselves as so progressive and forward-thinking, but the facts would prove otherwise.”

Fashion forward …

One of Ms Cox’s goals is to normalise representation of people with disabilities, but it doesn’t just mean using what she refers to as ‘the token disabled model’.

Meaningful representation goes beyond featuring one diverse model in a campaign on one occasion, and aims to create consistent inclusivity.

But a simple scroll through your favourite brand’s social media page – particularly if they are Australian – will likely reflect minimal variations of the same able-bodied archetype.

According to the World Health Organisation, 15 per cent of the world’s population is living with a disability, a market share Ms Cox believes brands are foolish to ignore.

I can’t walk but I can shop … disabled people have credit cards and spending power and they’re just not being recognised.

“Just like everybody I have multiple interests – yes, I’m in a wheelchair … but I also love fashion, going out with my husband, all the ‘normal things’ that I liked before I had a disability.”

At 24, Ms Cox suffered a stroke that resulted in multiple amputations and left her in hospital for a year.

“Disability has changed so much of my life, but it hasn’t changed the fact that I have all these interests,” Ms Cox said.

The good news is, some brands like US underwear label Jockey are hearing the message loud and clear by regularly featuring diverse models in their campaigns.

Fashion icon Tommy Hilfiger, who has three children on the autism spectrum, created Tommy Adaptive – a clothing line specifically designed and adapted for people who struggle with dressing.

Model Lauren Wasser, who lost both her legs after suffering toxic shock syndrome, is well known in the industry and has worked with brands like Adidas and Rihanna’s lingerie line, Savage X Fenty.

But for Australian consumers, Ms Cox believes there are two simple ways we can promote the same change in our industries back home.

“Instagram is a really good place to start. You only have to scroll through your favourite brand to see there is zero representation, and rather than a ‘call out’, just slide into their [direct messages] and ask, ‘Why?'” she said.

“It can be as simple as that and doesn’t involve big rallies and things like that.

“If you do see representation, congratulate them and thank them.”

New York Fashion Week runs from September 13 to 17