Fashion brands must not ignore disabled customers, study shows – By Nottingham Trent University

Fashionable clothing for disabled people is an area for growth with a market the size of China, research by Nottingham Trent University shows.

A study by the School of Art & Design has found that a combination of aging populations across the western world, increases to life expectancy of people born with disabilities and advances in technologies such as 3D printing have created the chance for fashion brands to offer bespoke services and customised products to disabled people.

“Disabled people are not accepted in many areas of mainstream fashion,” says lecturer Julian Wing, who led the study. “It’s a world of perfection and beauty, and disabled people are largely left out of the marketing and promotion campaigns of big brands.

“But with a population of 1.1 billion, people with disabilities are an emerging market equal to the size of China. Their friends and families add another 1.9 billion potential customers to that market. Together, they control an estimated US$9 trillion annual disposable income globally.

“This is a huge potential market. But while a number businesses provide adaptive clothing via the internet, only a handful are producing clothes for disabled people which are in-line with the latest fashion lines.”

The research was undertaken for Bez Graniz Couture and recently presented at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia 2015. Among the recommendations are that a more inclusive approach is taken by the high street.

“Disabled people, like anybody else, want to be spontaneous and shop when they feel like it,” said Mr Wing. “They get married, participate in sports, they want to wear lingerie, eat out in restaurants and need a suit for the office.

“Important work is being undertaken by a new generation of designers who look to create more inclusive garments. There’s a huge potential for 3D printing to help create bespoke, fashionable clothes which fit individual disabled people properly.

“Some of the prohibitive costs of creating one off pieces for disabled people will no doubt be removed as the technology advances and evolves.

“As wider use of technology drives down costs, disabled people will be able to take more control of the manufacture of the products they use in their day to day lives.

“Combined with the use of social media by disabled people, there’s potential for the creation of a new generation of disabled fashionistas and role models for, what until now, has been an isolated groups of consumers.

“A positive step forward would be a long term commitment from fashion brands to feature disabled people in promotional campaigns – to a point in time where disabled models become an unremarkable element of a promotion.”

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