Welcome to Part Two of my interview with Gemma Flanagan.
In Part One we looked at Gemma’s story and how from being an active young woman travelling the world for her job, she ended up in hospital completely paralysed. How she was in hospital for almost a year and has had to come to terms with life in a wheelchair.
In this second part of the interview we explore the work of Models of Diversity (MOD). Angel and her team are challenging the perceptions of beauty as portrayed by the fashion, beauty and media industries. They are campaigning for change, inclusion and equality.
In this second part we will explore the campaign #DisabilityFight4FashionRight.
I will share with you how important the #DisabilityFight4FashionRight campaign is, not simply for people with disabilities who want to make a career of modelling. This campaign has a much wider impact offering inspiring role models to others.
Beauty is diverse across the full spectrum of Society. There are many beautiful men and women who would not fit into the conventional and frankly outdated sense of what is defined as beauty by the fashion, beauty and media industries.
CH: MOD is more than simply fighting for acceptance of disability on the catwalk and is having some great wins – would you please share some of these with us?
GF: For a start diversity embraces much more than just disability. It includes ethnicity, age, size, height, non-binary gender.
Yes we are having some fantastic wins and that we have some businesses and brands we’re talking to. Unfortunately there are a lot who are not so enlightened and so it’s slow progress.
We are in discussion with various brands and some are really embracing what we’re doing. Top Shop are meeting with us and discussions are ongoing. Jack Eyers is part of this Men’s Fashion Week for TopMan.
Male Disabled Models seem to be more readily accepted and I think that’s because of the association of War Veterans.
CH: Is the UK different from other countries in its approach and acceptance of diversity in the fashion industry and if so how?
GF: The UK is certainly behind other countries. Take the US as an example
There is certainly more diversity in New York Fashion week. In February this included our own Jack Eyers who was on the catwalk. The first amputee to feature in New York Fashion Week.
US Brand Nordstrom takes a more inclusive approach using models who would be considered diverse in all of its shows.
The UK does lag behind not just the US but other countries in Europe. Our culture is much more reserved. We seem to be more awkward about embracing and celebrating diversity.
CH: Is there any sense that the fashion industry will use diversity simply to gain public approval, be seen as ‘doing the right thing’, an act of tokenism?
GF: Sadly there are indeed acts of tokenism. With a ‘hey look at us’ approach and the media attention dies and life returns to the way it’s always been.
We want it become just normal practice.
Our message is very clear. We are passionate about not having special treatment.
We don’t want to be taken on as models because we are disabled, or due to our ethnic origin etc.
We want to be accepted as models because we have the attributes required for a model: Beauty, confidence, we are professional, able to take direction.
What we are campaigning for is not to be treated differently and to have a level playing field.
CH: Of course the campaign that MOD is fighting for is so important for anyone who wants to work in the fashion industry, but what are the effects for people outside the industry
GF: With over 80% of people suffering from body confidence issues it’s so important to celebrate beauty in all its forms.
Before my illness I was size 8, toned and tall. GBS has meant that my body shape has gone through many changes.
I know how seeing someone that I could have related in a role that is all about being visible would have helped me to get through an incredibly tough time in my life.
Our campaign is much more than the modeling industry. We want retailers to think more about Diversity.
- How many mannequins do you see in wheelchairs?
- Disabled changing facilities are often used as storage space?
- Which retailers provide a lower counter facility for wheelchair users?
CH: As an Ambassador for MOD and its campaign for Diversity can you tell us a bit about the #DisabilityFight4FashionRight and what you want to achieve?
GF: To put it simply we are 4 disabled women addressing exclusion of disability in Fashion.
We want to see fairness and equality. We do not want to be shamed or excluded. We wear clothes, so why shouldn’t we be represented in the Marketing and Advertising campaigns that the industry generates?
Our #DisabilityFight4FashionRight Campaign is simply to ask the Government to Enforce & Regulate strict guidelines to the multiple areas of this industry.
On September 18th 2015 we launched our petition at the House of Lords. We met with Baronness Benjamin and Baronness Hussein-Ece who were happy to add their support to our campaign.
We have until 23rd March to get 100,000 signatures for the Government to consider this for Parliamentary debate.
CH: Are people being supportive? How are you raising awareness of the campaign?
GF: We had a great response when we launched. But we’ve still got a long way to go.
We are starting launching a UK tour on 30th January and we’re hoping that this will generate more publicity.
It’s actually harder to get the disabled community engaged, their concern is that we’re trying to make money out of disability – nothing could be further from the truth!
None of us get paid for what we do! We are all volunteers. A lot of modeling shoots and fashion shows are done to generate publicity – we don’t earn from them.
However, as our #DisabilityFight4FashionRight campaign is for equality, this will include embracing engaging models on equal terms.
CH: How can we support Models of Diversity?
GF: Please, Please sign the petition. We want as many people as possible to see the #DisabilityFight4FashionRight campaign and have a chance to support us.
To get this out to as wide an audience as possible we are asking for everyone to SHARE this campaign.
Please put a link on your Facebook Profile, Twitter Feed, Instagram and wherever you hang out online.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who does sign for #DisabilityFight4FashionRight as you are supporting inclusion and fairness.
*Part 1 – read more if you missed how Gemma’s life changed almost overnight – from traveling the world to lying paralysed in hospital.