By Amanda Dibre

Brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Sephora, and The Estée Lauder Companies are doing the work to insure the disabled community feels at home both in their offices and their clothes.

July is recognized as Disability Pride Month, dedicated to promoting pride and confidence in those with disabilities. This year marks 32 years of celebrating Disability Pride Month, not to be confused with Disability Awareness Month, which is honored in March. Areas like Long Beach, California, and Middlesex County, New Jersey, hold various events in honor of the Americans with Disability Act signed in 1990, and to advocate for greater accessibility for disabled people in all aspects of life. Luckily, the last decade has seen a colossal increase in brands— including those in the fashion and beauty industries—working to make their products and workplaces more inclusive of disabled people. Brands like Sephora, Tommy Hilfiger, and Estee Lauder are doing their part to contribute.

15% of the world’s population is disabled, constituting the largest minority. And yet, there is still a raging global disability inequality crisis. Lauren Nathan Lane, a model in a wheelchair based in London who’s modeled in London Fashion Week and featured in Mission’s Human Issue, said she has trouble finding comfortable clothes. “Each disabled person has different access needs, but for me, I find it hard to find fitted clothes without them being too tight around places that can be uncomfortable if you’re sitting all day,” Lauren tells Mission. Although the fashion and beauty industries have a long way to go, some companies are making the right strides. 

Tommy Hilfiger, a clothing company, seeks to bring inclusion and confidence to its consumers. In 2017, it launched Tommy Adaptive for men, women, and children. This line of innovative clothing has features like one-handed zippers, magnetic buttons, and velcro closures, making it easier for those with prosthetics, Down’s Syndrome, wheelchair users, and more to be able to dress themselves. 

Meanwhile, LVMH, a multinational corporation, has tailored its company to integrate people with disabilities into its workforce. Sephora, a subsidiary of LVMH, is working to prioritize disability inclusion. Awarded the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) Employer Award in 2020, the brand brings equal pay employment opportunities to those with disabilities through their training program. The nine-week program provides disabled individuals with the tools and confidence to become successful full-time employees. Sephora creates accessible and safe working environments committed to treating everyone with dignity by fostering independence and self-sufficiency. Sephora was ranked as one of the best places to work in 2022 by the Disability Equality Index

“As a disabled model myself, it’s always great if I can see or know of disability representation behind the camera too. That kind of representation feels more genuine as I know companies are supporting disabled photographers, production teams, and MUAs,” Lane says. 

The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC), a multinational cosmetics company, was also listed on the Disability Equality Index for dedicated disability inclusion within their company, a demonstrated commitment to workplace accessibility, strong employment practices, and more. Creating a Disability and Mental Health Employee Resource Group (ERG), Estée Lauder has fostered a sense of community for those with shared identities and experiences. Bringing change from the inside out, ELC aims to bring accessibility to its customers with disabilities by incorporating usability features to their sites and assistive technology, including aspects like voice recognition, hands-free navigation, and screen reader technologies.

While these steps towards a more inclusive industry are applaudable, they should be the norm for all companies. With work still to be done, Lanes said, “consumers now want to know that companies are thinking openly about their impact on the climate and, as we know, climate change will disproportionately impact disabled people. I want to see the future of the fashion and beauty industries being far more sustainable in its decisions, and I also want them to champion disabled artists, designers, and creators in a non-tokenistic way.” She also wants luxury fashion houses to think more about their disabled customers. “I want luxury fashion houses to start thinking more about their inclusion of disabled buyers. There’s an assumption that disabled people don’t engage in luxury fashion or beauty, and that’s partly true; we are much more likely to be impacted by poverty. But some disabled people are interested in high-end luxury and deserve to feel included in their campaigns and products.

Unlike the myriad companies making little more than vague statements regarding disability inclusion, the companies above are putting their promises into action. Pioneering a genuine belonging for those with disabilities, these Valuable 500 members are changing the fashion and beauty industries to be more inclusive and accessible.

Photographer: Sølve Sundsbø 
Styling: Anders Sølvsten Thomsen 
Makeup: Polly Osmond
Hair: Hyungsun Ju
Talent:  Lauren Nathan Lane at Zebedee models

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