Shaholly Ayers, model and inclusion advocate, has been featured in the self-made billionaire’s, Rhianna’s Vol. 3 Fenty X Savage fashion show on Amazon Prime. Ayers is a congenital amputee and made history when she was the first-ever model to walk the New York Fashion Week runway without a prosthetic. Ayers once dreamed of being on the cover of magazines, in advertisements, and commercials, and now that is a reality.
Advertising and Fashion are among the mediums that have historically lacked diversity, both in front and behind the camera. According to a study by Maryville University, when people recognize themselves in messages, they’re more likely to respond, and up to 83% of people pointed to better representing modern society as the reason marketing campaigns were impactful in a positive way, so why does advertising still only include disabled people in 0.8% of all it’s content.
Rihanna is setting a new standard for the industry, proving that everybody deserves a place on the runway. She is utilizing an incredible array of talent who happen to be intersectionally diverse covering ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and age. The entrepreneur and songstress has been praised for inclusive and diverse castings in her fashion shows and campaigns for cosmetics brand Fenty.
Ayers was once told she could “never be a model”, but is now among the most elite in the industry. Ayers has mixed views on the progress of accessibility in the fashion and advertising worlds, “I have been impressed with the industry’s inclusion of diverse ethnicity and body types. However, the inclusion of people with disabilities has been somewhat lacklustre. I know plenty of plus-size models who work consistently but none of the models with disabilities do. I feel like we aren’t taken as seriously as a demographic and are only hired for one-offs or to satisfy an inclusive campaign. I would love it if they utilized us more, granting us the opportunity to have modelling, acting, etc our careers.”
Ayres mentioned her experience working with Rhianna was “UNREAL!” and said “I must say that this was the most inclusive production I have ever been a part of. We had people from all walks of life together on set; almost every body type, race, sex, and celebrity all mixed together. We were all treated equally and no one was more special than the next. I spent most of my night next to Vanessa Hudgens who was very professional and kind. Despite a large number of artists on set, we were all acknowledged by name and in the end, we’re all given robes with our names embroidered on the back. They made this special and I feel so blessed to have been chosen as one of their models. I just love Savage X Fenty and Rhianna!”
Ayers has achieved many career milestones and fought very hard for them, she says it was not an easy road, and says the biggest milestones in her career were booking her first Nordstrom photoshoot, walking in New York Fashion Week, being interviewed on the Today Show, and most recently modelling for Savage X Fenty. Ayers says “What all of these have in common are that they all gained large amounts of positive press. This means that the public wants to see more of this. More inclusion of all people including those with disabilities can only help the industry thrive.”
For the future, Ayers would like the industry to “go for it”, Ayers thinks “there is still some residual fear involved with including people with disabilities and perhaps even an insecurity in how to represent us. Which, I understand but it isn’t necessary. Portray us just like you do any other model, the rest will follow.”
Ayers wants to applaud those companies who are currently inclusive of disabled people, and those preparing to do so. She says “For those who aren’t, you are missing out on satisfying a larger consumer base by not being inclusive.”
The adaptive fashion space is growing, and according to American Rodeo, the global Adaptive Clothing market was valued at USD 250.1 million in 2019. The market size will reach USD 294.3 million by the end of 2026, growing at a CAGR of 2.3% during 2021-2026.
Ayers says “I think there are many clothing options that could be made accessible for people with disabilities that could also benefit most people. Take zippers for instance, as an upper extremity amputee (missing my arm) It’s difficult for me to zip my own jacket. I am not alone here, people with arthritis, or even someone wearing winter gloves may also struggle with operating a zipper. By thinking about adaptive wear as exclusive to disability we may be narrowing the future potential of what adaptive clothing can be. Changing the way we think about incorporating accessible fashion may help us better bridge the gap and provide solutions for a larger population.”
High-end brands such as Savage X Fenty could have a great impact when it comes to incorporating adaptive fashion, bridging the gap between fashionable and functional. Brands have been slowly picking up on this need, Tommy Hilfiger, Ugg and Nike, are among the companies that have released adaptive options.
Ayers says, “We need bold and creative fashion designers to make solution-oriented clothing and as THE innovators of fashion, I believe the high-end brands are the ones who would need to lead the way. If high-end brands started carrying “adaptive clothing” or as I like to think of it, more accessible fashion, this would be a complete game-changer.”
Ayers is looking forward to seeing designers turn fashion on its head and create new, beautifully unique solutions for our upcoming generations. Ayers finishes by saying, “We have been cycling the last few decades of fashion and It’s time for something new… Something now!”