The Double Take runway show was an event that preceded New York Fashion Week by a day. It was sponsored by biotechnology company Genentech, which wants to help increase the visibility of people with disabilities. Models suffering from spinal muscular atrophy performed at the show. They partnered with Open Style Lab, a recognized US non-profit organization dedicated to developing functional yet stylish solutions for and with people with disabilities.

    The show was opened by singer-songwriter and actor James Ian, who wore a pink tailored suit. A howling wolf was embroidered on the back. “Fashion is one of the ways people get an impression of you without you having to say anything, just through the clothes and style,” Ian told FashionUnited. “Fashion is a way to show the world who you really are.”

    Spinal muscular atrophy is a progressive neuromuscular disease that can affect walking, mobility and overall muscle strength, causing different problems in different bodies, as it is in the larger community of people with disabilities. Some are in wheelchairs and trousers or dresses that pucker at the buttocks quickly become uncomfortable, while for others the sleeves and buttons can be a challenge.

    Image: IMAXTree for Genentech

    Shane and Hannah Burcaw, a couple who have over a million followers on their YouTube channel Squirmy and Grubbs, looked glamorous as they rolled and walked down the runway. Shane’s sleek purple suit featured hidden innovations. Open Style Lab employee Jenna Dewar, who designed the suit with him, described it backstage to FashionUnited as follows: The pants are made of two layers, the inner one is made of stretch fabric that has been designed in an L-shape to absorb the excess To reduce bulk unneeded for someone who remains in a seated position. The outer velvet layer is buttoned at the top, allowing the garment’s appearance to be adaptable for different seasons or looks, from casual to formal.

    The community of people with disabilities is mostly neglected

    The stylish rib detailing on a Joe Lakhman red leather jacket hides snap buttons, allowing the wearer to remove the sleeves for easier dressing while also choosing between a waistcoat or a jacket. This level of innovation and opportunity should be of great interest to the fashion industry, but, according to Dewar, “in terms of representation, people with disabilities are the last group to be involved and, in most cases, those who are in the media have a say come, an ‘able-bodied’ perspective, i.e. one without disabilities. We have learned the detriment of not considering all voices. I hope that more TV shows will become representative of society and therefore more inspirational.”

    Otto Knutson and Celine Domalski
    IMAXTree for Genentech

    As on most catwalks, children tend to steal the show from their clothes. That was the case when a waving Céline Domalski in a shimmering silver flapper dress with stretchy side panels was accompanied by her mother Amber Joi, or when Otto Knutson rolled down the catwalk in his turquoise popsicle-print suit and every member of the front row straight in the face. Shoulder gussets supported his arm movements, and openings in his jacket and shirt allowed access to the feeding tube.

    Every Double Take collaboration between customers and fashion designers grew out of a dialogue centered around how members of the community tailor their clothing to their needs. James Ian would love to see some of his favorite brands like All Saints, Palm Angels or Dolce & Gabbana adopt adaptive fashion. “A lot of the adaptive garments are pretty limited in terms of style,” he said. “They’re more casual or demure and I’d like to see more streetwear or smart formal wear.”

    More visibility for people with disabilities

    “There’s still work to be done, but what we’re doing this week helps reinforce the perception that we’re a big part of the population,” said Ian. Last fall, wheelchair-bound model Aaron Philip made her debut on the Moschino runway at Milan Fashion Week. In recent years, the discussion about diversity, equality and inclusion in the fashion industry has heated up considerably. But Ian, as a disabled person of color, can’t help feeling that none of this is happening fast enough. The community feels they are left out of the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion. She feels she still doesn’t get the attention she deserves. “There’s a lot more we can do as part of a broader discussion.”

    That’s why the Double Take Show is so important to New York Fashion Week, and it gives Ian hope that progress is possible: “I’m excited to be part of the initiatives that are trying to push the boundaries a little bit further.”

    Sponsor Genentech, a biotechnology company that makes drugs for multiple therapeutic areas, has previously launched initiatives in the music industry, but this is the company’s first foray into fashion. “Part of our work is going beyond medicine and creating programs for the communities we serve,” said Adam Pryor, Senior Manager, Genentech Corporate Relations. “When it comes to SMA, a theme that kept coming up in every conversation was fashion and inclusivity. So this is part of our ‘SMA My Way Program’ which represents our broader commitment to the SMA community.”

    The question remains: will the fashion industry increase its commitment to fashion-savvy consumers within the disability community?

    This article was similarly published on Editing: Barbara Russ