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Brief Published: 6 Oct 2020

Disability-Inclusive Fashion Ads’ Sensitive Representation

Kurt Geiger x Zebedee

Forward-thinking brands are championing inclusive representation by casting models with visible and non-visible disabilities in their brand campaigns. Recent examples from British footwear retailer Kurt Geiger, luxury giant Gucci and UK department store Fenwick – all in partnership with British inclusivity-focused model agency Zebedee – illustrate how to authentically embrace diversity, and avoid tokenistic messaging.

Around 15% of the world’s population are currently living with some form of mental or physical disability (WHO, 2020), while 63% of global consumers view brands that represent diversity as being more authentic (Microsoft, 2020). It’s a convergence that’s creating a huge commercial as well as moral imperative for brands to show a more diverse, reality-reflecting cross-section of identities in their advertising and marketing campaigns.

Eighteen-year-old British model and performing arts student Ellie Goldstein – who has Down’s syndrome – starred in Gucci Beauty’s June 2020 ad campaign for its L’Obscur Mascara, in collaboration with the Photo Vogue Festival. Notably, her photo became Gucci’s most-liked Instagram post ever, garnering over 860,000 likes at the time of writing.  

Kurt Geiger’s current campaign People Empowered will feature 15 disability activists and organisation leaders. The first is Irish leg amputee and cancer survivor Bernadette Hagans. Shot at home via Facetime, the images of Hagan’s personal story are showcased on the retailer’s e-commerce site.

According to Zebedee’s director, Laura Johnson, Kurt Geiger has confirmed that it will continue to book models with disabilities, illustrating a critical long-term commitment to inclusivity. Upcoming campaigns will include English models Niamh Woods, who has ectodermal skin dysplasia; and Shelby Lynch, a wheelchair and ventilator user with spinal muscular atrophy. Johnson encourages brands to create “empowering, beautiful images in which disability is incidental to the whole campaign”.

Fenwick exemplified such subtle inclusion when using a model with a prosthetic leg as part of its summer e-commerce photos, proving that inclusivity needn’t be limited to big campaigns.

See also Marketing to All Abilities.