Queer and crip don’t often describe fashion. They describe gender nonconforming identities and apparent or not-so apparent disabilities. The fashion industry has stayed clear of those words for decades, showing perfect, shiny, blonde models on tropical beaches -of cardboard backgrounds.
Until queer and crip individuals said enough. Enough with the unrealistic models of beauty, enough with not being represented.
Queer and crip fashion was born out of a void. People who identify themselves as queer and people with physical and mental disabilities wanted to be part of the fashion industry.
The void was first filled by model Jillian Mercado.
Mercado is a disabled, Latina fashion model who has been on a wheelchair since she was 12. She has muscular dystrophy, a disease that causes the muscles to weaken and break down. Disability couldn’t get in the way of Mercado’s dream: being a part of the fashion world.
“I just found a moment within myself where I was just like, if I don’t see it out there, and I know in my heart and my soul that I belong here, and it’s what I love doing and it’s in the industry of fashion, then I have to do something about it,” Mercado told the Huffington Post, “I have to change that.”
And she did change it in 2014, when she became the face of the Diesel campaign.
For the first time, people saw the beauty in disability and the fashion industry welcomed Mercado, who never lost her motivation.
“We’re more than our medical titles that we have. It’s a part of us,” Mercado said. “I am disabled and I’m very proud and happy to say that, but I also know that we’re astronauts, we’re doctors, we’re lawyers,” Mercado told the Huffington Post.
Mercado isn’t the only advocate for queer and crip people.
Chicago designer Sky Cubacub launched Rebirth Garments whose mission is “ to create gender non-conforming wearables and accessories for people on the full spectrum of gender, size and ability. The line creates a community where all people can confidently express their individuality and identity.”
Sky Cubacub identifies as a human, a nonbinary queer and disabled Filipinx from Chicago, with life long anxiety and panic disorders. The designer isn’t afraid to talk about topics that make the fashion industry uncomfortable. The whole industry needs to change, said Sky Cubacub, starting from the idea that clothing is more important than anything else.
“While I think that my clothing is important, it’s only important because it’s important to my models. It’s changing their lives,” said the designer to the Disability Visibility Project.
Rebirth Garments goes beyond queerness and disability: the clothes are all handmade and custom made. Ethical, respectful and just. The justice that queer and crip people have been missing in a world that only represents what society deems “normal.” If society doesn’t accept it or see it, then it is not real. Except it is.
Disability fashion stylist Stephanie Thomas styles celebrities and assists tech companies in their efforts to understand the disabled community.
“What is problematic is when people say,‘I don’t see your disability,” Thomas told Refinery 29. “We are not a monolith.”
The aim of the queer and crip movement is to allow disabled and queer individuals to feel free and confident through fashion. Tommy Hilfiger understood its importance and, in 2017, launched the Tommy Adaptive collection. The textiles are stretchy, the hems are adjustable, the closures are magnetic, and the clothes are colorful and glamorous. With this line, people from the crip community can be glamorous and comfortable.
Advocate and crip YouTuber Annie Segarra believes accessibility is innovative for everyone.
“Mainstream and designer fashion can learn how to make fashion for everyone, not just an elite few, and they’ll be thankful for it. Disabled innovation is groundbreaking,” Segarra said to Refinery 29.
It is time to break the stubborn, ancient, dusty ground.
Check the Disability Visibility Project to be always up to date with the lastest news and developments: https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/.