Get-hooked April 13, 2021
Disability fashion stylist Stephanie Thomas is out to change negative perceptions about people with disabilities
Los Angeles-based disability fashion stylist Stephanie Thomas is passionate about inclusion in fashion. She calls accessible fashion her “life’s work”. Through her platform Cur8Able and her trademarked fashion styling system, Thomas wants to make it easier for people with disabilities to get dressed easily and in style.
Stephanie Thomas is proud of her reputation as a disruptor in the fashion and entertainment industry. The Los Angeles based disability fashion stylist is out to change perceptions towards disability in the fashion industry. She wants to ensure that people with disabilities are not left out of the conversation and uses every opportunity to push the message of inclusion in fashion and wants to show that disabled and non-disabled people are more alike than different.
Chicago-born Thomas was most recently in the news for a photoshoot to commemorate Women’s History Month by recreating magazine covers of iconic women of colour like Lena Horne, Jennifer Lopez, and Diana Ross. Thomas chose women with disabilities to celebrate these powerful and trailblazing women. The photos had no wheelchairs or assistive devices, which was a deliberate move.
“There is something that we refer to in the disability community as ‘inspiration porn’, meaning that people generally provide a high number of likes or tend to feel differently about people who use assistive technologies”, Thomas told Newz Hook. “I wanted to show that we are no different. That we could be on covers and create our own iconic history. It is important for me for people to see us and see the similarities between people who live with disabilities and people who don’t”.
Inclusion in fashion
The photoshoot is just one of the many ways Thomas is out to push the inclusion in fashion conversation further. A congenital amputee, Thomas has missing digits on her right hand and feet. That never stopped this former Chicago Bulls cheerleader from pursuing various interests despite medical warnings that she might not be able to dance or walk.
Thomas started looking closely into clothing for people with disabilities while competing in a community pageant.
My pageant coach asked me why I never buttoned the left cuff on my shirts and that’s when I realised that I didn’t button my shirt because I didn’t have a right thumb. I had never thought about it until then. My community project became fashion for people with disabilities and it turned into my life’s work. I started reaching out to everyone with a disability. I was frustrated at first when people with disabilities were not interested in adaptive clothing until I realised that we wanted clothing designed with us in mind. – Stephanie Thomas, Disability fashion stylist
Thomas reached out to mainstream fashion brands asking them to design keeping the needs of people with disabilities in mind. That didn’t go far, and Thomas turned her attention to devising hacks to address styling needs of clients with disabilities. These are based on the three mantras she is passionate about – accessible, smart, and fashionable. Accessible is easy to put on and take off, Smart is medically safe, and Fashionable is desirable to the wearer, and fits the wearer’s body type and lifestyle.
29 year journey of inclusion
All this was a labour of love until 2006 when Thomas went to a Target store to buy cat food and saw a functional trench coat for cats. “It annoyed me to think that pets had a functional coat in the stores for their body type while parents of a child with a seated body type had no real options. This was the case well after over three decades of the American Disabilities Act”.
That episode inspired Thomas, then a radio show host to launch The PJ Deejay Campaign. She wore pyjamas for a year, and every day, provided listeners with a fact about dressing with a disability. The response was largely positive. She went on to pursue a degree in fashion journalism while continuing to style people based on her disability styling system which she has trademarked. “Once I had the tool to educate the fashion industry, I set out to change the landscape”, she says.
In 2010, she launched her first website about dressing with disabilities. In 2015, the website became Cur8able. Here, Thomas shares content curated as per the standards of her styling system, alongside perceptions about the industry and the attitude towards disability in the fashion industry. She wants more people to use her system. “I want the world to use it, just tell people where you got it from”, she says. Two of her clients include Tamara Mena and Lolo Spencer. Mena is a model, and actress who happens to be paralysed and Spencer has acted in the film Give Me Liberty. She has ALS. Both share information and their stories on the Cur8able platform.
Watch Thomas talk about her styling system in this TedX Talks video
Thomas, who is 51 years old has carved her own unique identity as a disability fashion stylist. She is broadly optimistic of the direction the fashion industry is taking but says there’s a need to do more. “Don’t include people with disabilities because they are disabled. It’s a skill, a job. We are 15% of the world’s population so stop doing the very least. We need to be regarded as valuable contributors”.
Click here to know more about Cur8able
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