Updated: May 16
And Why You Should Follow Them on Instagram and TikTok
As an ethical fashion designer, my core brand mission is heavily rooted in environmental sustainability and fashion industry worker rights.
However, the dire need for fashion reform ranges far deeper and wider than only these two issues. Addressing these problems collectively is a daunting task.
Because I am a heteronormative, cis gendered, and able bodied white woman, my understanding and thus my inherent ability to make change only stretches so far. That, and of course, I am only one person. Fortunately, in the year 2023, the internet is ripe with a bold and diverse community of people leaning into their passions, strengths, and differences in a very public way, all in an effort to transform the “norm” as we know it.
The generous peeks that these change makers give into their lives and areas of expertise continues to shape my ability to understand how I can best serve the greater good, and it isn’t hard to see why.
Disabled Fashion and Clean Beauty Influencer - Nashville
Style and clean beauty influencer April Lockhart is a multitalented force of nature.
Born with amniotic band syndrome, a condition which occurs when fibrous bands of the amniotic sac become tangled around a developing fetus, April's mission to raise awareness and to normalize the presence of people with disabilities in fashion is taking social media by storm.
April is a self proclaimed “disabled fashion girlie” who is rewriting the old and tired narrative of societal beauty standards. Her charming personality, business savvy, and elevated fashion sense would be enough on their own to garner attention, but it’s how she embraces her limb difference that elevates her to fashion revolutionist status.
In 2022 alone, April has been featured in Who What Wear, The Cut, Fast Company, written a piece featured in Byrdie, and has starred in a televised commercial for The Real Real, just to name a few. She is not just normalizing the presence of disabled babes in the industry, she is kicking ass and taking names.
Poet, Fashion Influencer and Mental Health Advocate - New York City
Simi Muhumuza is a must follow style influencer teaching us that a healthy connection with self and body is the first priority when stepping into our unique personal styles.
Her brand, while fashion-centric, is huge on mental health, especially in terms of its destigmatizing within the black community. Black women, in particular, are at the heart of her work. Simi's book, "For When You Decide To Be Honest" embodies this principle in its poetic renderings of her experiences existing as a black woman in the United States.
Simi’s content is a stunning curation of vulnerable self expression and bold fashions. She teaches us to throw those tired style "rules" of which bodies can wear what out the window, and to remember to dress for ourselves and nobody else. Her work is the ever-necessary reminder to love yourself first.
Disabled Rights Activist and Actress - Australia
Likely best known for her award winning and history making performance as Quinni in Netflix ANZ’s Heartbreak High, where she broke barriers by becoming Australia's first mainstream autistic actress, Chloè Hayden is a multitalented creative, best selling author, autism activist, and not to mention a fashion icon in her own right.
She is, unsurprisingly, a social media sensation, and she uses both her online platform and global speaking tours to educate (and advocate) on what it means to be on the autism spectrum in a society designed for the neurotypical.
Chloè's first book “Different, Not Less: a neurodivergent’s guide to embracing your true self and finding your happily ever after” continues to inspire countless others living with neurodivergence to give a big “fuck you” to the system that tries, unsuccessfully, to keep them down.
Disabled Fashion Ambassador - Nashville
Alicia Searcy, director of the non profit organization Fashion is for Every Body (@fashionis4everybody), is a cornerstone to not just the Nashville fashion industry, but to the inclusive fashion movement as a whole.
Alicia is a bonafide inclusive fashion pioneer. Born with Cerebral Palsy, Alicia experienced the casual dismissal from able bodied people that far too many disabled persons face on a daily basis. Using punk fashion as her weapon, Alicia transformed her persona into one that exudes confidence and commands respect. She learned to self advocate, and in turn, began advocating for others. Her blog, Spashionista (shorthand for Spastic Fashionista) was one of the first disabled fashion blogs ever published, and is an undeniably necessary confrontation on the urgent need for disabled representation within the fashion industry.
Alicia’s advocacy work makes waves in the Music City community, going beyond normalizing to celebrate non traditional models through inclusive fashion. Alicia and her organization are best known for their annual inclusive runway show, however their work expands far beyond that. Through designer and boutique partnerships, as well as education on adaptive clothing and true inclusivity in design, Alicia is breaking barriers to create a bolder and more inclusive tomorrow.
Disability Advocate and Amputee Model - Brisbane Australia
Sara Shams, known online through her smart and quirky brand persona “No Legs no Worries”, is a quickly up and coming disability advocate, speaker, and model currently thriving in Brisbane, Australia.
As a bilateral through knee amputee, Sara is funny and honest in her pursuit to educate her online and real life communities on what it takes to be truly and authenticity inclusive within the fashion industry and beyond. She is quick to point out the differences between most performative ad campaigns that we’re exposed to today, vs what it actually takes for a brand to be genuine in their mission to hold space for people from various walks of life.
Disability representation has been left out of the mainstream conversation for too long, and in today's age this can no longer be tolerated. Sara's show stopping presence in brand photo shoots and runway shows is holding the modeling industry accountable. She is demanding that the industry reevaluate itself, and its approach towards disabled bodies.
Through her comprehensive intersectional approach, Sara uses her steadily growing platform to transform the industry into one where every person can learn to celebrate their differences (and be celebrated for their differences), just as she has. Her career says to other amputees and aspiring disabled models that now is the time to make their marks! The masses are starving for authenticity in a photoshop world, and with women like Sara Shams leading the march, it's looking like the disabled community is really about to shake things up!
Worlds First Super Model with Down syndrome - Australia
The model, the myth, the legend.
If you haven't heard about the worldwide sensation Madeline Stuart by now, then you're in for a treat.
Madeline has been famously deemed the "world's first super model with down syndrome", a title which is no understatement. The accomplishments that Madeline has collected throughout her career are impressive to say the least. She has strutted runways in New York Fashion week and across the globe, has partnered with several big brands, has had features in Vogue, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Time Magazine, and People Magazine, and has stared in a self titled documentary "Maddy The Model". Her resume goes far beyond this of course, but I'm guessing that you don't have all day.
Madeline is an absolute force of nature in the fashion world, and the monumental change she has inspired in her short career is only the beginning.
Alok Vaid Menon
Poet, Comedian, Speaker, Actor, and Trans Rights Activist - NYC
To non-binary style icon Alok Vaid Menon, fashion is activism.
What began as stage costuming quickly developed into an offstage persona. By 2017, they had begun designing electrifying garments of their own. These shocking silhouettes in loud prints were not only gender defying, but also completely turned societal style expectations on their heads. This bold design was a way to imagine what they would wear if not faced with violence, an objective at the core of every faucet of their work.
This work, a tireless and magnificent effort to degender beauty and fashion, is aimed at the heartstrings. It is confronting, begging for vulnerability and also for compassion. As such, it is often met with aggression.
In the face of this violence, Alok stands unwavering in their mission, and in their style. They best summed up this intentional relationship with clothing in a 2019 interview with Fashionmagazine.com, saying, "I was never able to consent to the various sets of stereotypes around gender and race that were ascribed to me, but with my outfits, I found I could interrupt those logics."
For those looking to grow in allyship, Alok Vaid Menon's social media content, press interviews, and on screen features are all an absolute treasure trove of knowledge. If you're anything like me, their work will make you hopeful for a more inclusive future, it will make you angry for a gender binary and whitewashed history, and it will light a fashion revolutionist fire underneath you.