Inclusive fashion is shaping the way sustainable development is meant to be when we talk about sustainable fashion.
As readers of the Sustainable Mag fully understand, the market for sustainable fashion is growing at a record pace. Even more consequential, sustainable practices slowly are being integrated into all kinds of fashion – regardless of how the products are labeled.
A More Adaptive and Inclusive Approach to Design
For fashion to be truly sustainable it must be inclusive for people of all body types, including bodies experiencing limited mobility and a lack of flexibility.
Adaptive and inclusive fashion integrates into its design “easy solutions like magnetic closures instead of buttons, concealed zips and openings for tube access, and is vital to ensuring comfort, ease when getting dressed and dignity for people with disabilities.” However, “when you add sustainability into the equation, it can seem like an impossible feat to find both accessible and environmentally-friendly options.”
Taking a more adaptive and inclusive approach to fashion is the right thing to do – both as a sign of respect for people as human beings and for purely commercial purposes.
The Brands that Get it Will Win
A massive market opportunity awaits those in the fashion industry that embrace it in their design, marketing, and selling of products. According to research by Return on Disability:
And research by Coherent Market Insights found that the global adaptive clothing market will be nearly $400 billion by 2026.
Keep in mind these numbers are much smaller than the actual size of the market opportunity as people frequently do not disclose themselves as being disabled. Disabilities are “intersectional” in nature – they cut across every identifier of who we are as human beings – gender, ethnicity, age, religious views, and sexual orientation to name just a few.
If the fashion industry fails to fully embrace the adaptive clothing market it never will be completely sustainable. A sustainable market is one that is sustainable at every level – from design and production to the number of people it reaches. If the fashion industry does not reach the 12 percent of the world’s population with a disability it cannot be considered sustainable, no matter how responsibly or ethically its clothes and accessories are made.
Adaptive and Inclusive Fashion is Much More than Design
Just as the fashion industry must embrace the market opportunity of the disability community, so too must the retail community. It does no good to have products designed and made for people with disabilities if they cannot purchase them. As Stephanie Thomas, the founder of Cur8able, a disability fashion and lifestyle company said in a TEDx Talk:
We literally have more clothes in stores for pets than we have for people with disabilities.
Furthermore, Thomas pointed out that there are “fewer than five stores in the world that have clothes on the floor for people with a seated body type.”
Beyond not fully respecting the dignity of all people – a key consideration in the definition of sustainable – the lack of product choices available and accessible to people with disabilities is another major barrier to the fashion market becoming sustainable.
Thus, the retail industry must become more inclusive in every aspect of fashion. This means:
- Incorporating accessibility and inclusivity considerations more widely into product specifications
- Educating the in house buying teams responsible for purchasing the products that wind up in the stores and on the websites
- Taking a more holistic approach to product marketing
The Value Proposition of Sustainable, Inclusive Fashion
By making more clothes and accessories that are adaptable and inclusive of all populations, the fashion and retail industries can achieve a “win-win”. They get the brand and reputational credit for recognizing that every one of us is different and we experience fashion and retail in different ways. They also tap into a massive market that will only grow in the coming years.
In other words, the path to sustainable fashion goes through the disability community.