Liz Jackson wants to make the fashion and design industry more inclusive. Her mission began in 2012 when she realised that her eyeglasses were considered fashionable, while other assistive products were not.
So far, she has lobbied J Crew to sell canes and co-founded the Inclusive Fashion & Design Collective, supporting designers and retailers making products for all needs.
Positive Luxury spoke to Liz to find out more…
Your blog is called The Girl with the Purple Cane – what’s the story behind the name?
My story starts on March 30th of 2012. I woke up to a new body, fell out of bed and landed in the hospital. When I got out, I needed eyeglasses and a cane.
For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why my eyeglasses were fashionable when my cane was not. I fell into a deep depression for about 8 months. I struggled to adjust, to find others with similar experiences and to find products that reflected my identity.
In early December of 2012, I happened across a beautiful purple cane. And it changed my life. The first time I got on the subway with it, someone said to me “nice cane” instead of asking what’s wrong.
In the weeks that followed, my depression lifted. I decided to start a blog, and decided I needed an alter ego. At the time I had been watching Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movies and Girl with the Purple Cane just stuck.
And then you started a campaign to get J Crew to stock canes – what inspired this? What progress have you made?
Not long after starting my blog, I was in a J. Crew store looking at the eyeglasses and started wondering why eyeglasses were the fashionable assistive device.
When you purchase glasses from a retailer, you either wear them without a prescription or take them to your optometrist. A cane is much easier, as it requires no alteration. Why are glasses easier to acquire when it involves prescriptions?
I remember looking at a table of t-shirts and thinking to myself that I wanted a purple shirt to match my purple cane. They didn’t have a purple shirt, but they had all the other typical J. Crew colours out. And I remembered thinking to myself I can’t get a shirt to match my cane, but I should ask J. Crew to sell a cane to match these shirts.
I spent three years building arguments to convince J. Crew. I didn’t manage to get them on board, but I got something much better than I could have dreamed. I got the Inclusive Fashion & Design Collective.
So, tell us about the Inclusive Fashion Design Collective? What are the aims of this organisation?
The idea for the Inclusive Fashion & Design Collective originated in October of 2015. We are creating an ecosystem of products, ideas and people who prioritize the exception rather than the rule.
Our mission is to increase the impact of beautiful, functional products in our everyday lives and in the global economy. Our priorities right now are consultation, collaboration, ideation and events. We debuted at The White House and are dreaming big, having already gained a lot of traction and supporters.
How do you think fashion can become more inclusive? And which brands do you think are doing it well already?
This is the $8 Trillion dollar question – yes, that is the size of the disability market! I argue that disability and retail need each other. What I say is you don’t market to disability. You market as disability ingenuity for everybody.
The return on disability is massive, not just because the disability market is so big, but because many of the greatest technological advances in history were initially just solutions for our needs. For example, it is widely believed that the wheelchair inspired the bike!
When you invite disability to the table, you are no longer subject to misstepping. When products are made for us and with us, everyone benefits.
Microsoft is lightyears ahead of any major brand. One of the things I love most about Microsoft is when I tell them this, they shake their heads and say they feel like they have such a long way to go. This is what’s so exciting about the disability space right now. When you commit to including disability, you become part of a much greater conversation.
What about how some fashion labels have used models with disabilities on the catwalks – how can these efforts go beyond tokenism to become inclusivity?
I believe it was David Perry who first said that a disabled person will not truly be a model until they appear on a runway, wearing a garment intended for their body. Until that moment, the disabled person only serves as a prop.
There is a concept in disability called ‘Inspiration Porn’ where disabled bodies only overcome or succumb. We are nothing more than objects of inspiration. But we’re complex and our inclusion means inviting us to the table, making products with us in mind and with us as collaborators.
Right now, we are simply brand enhancers. Disabled people are used by brands to sell products to our able-bodied counterparts. There’s an expectation by brands that people will feel inspired by our inclusion and therefore shop their products more readily.
The disability community is not benefitting in any capacity, we don’t need awareness (people know disability exists) we need a voice. We need cool products.
What would you advise someone who is new to activism and campaigning, but has an issue close to their heart they want to solve? How should they get started?
I think about this a lot. Starting is the hardest part. You simply have to make yourself uncomfortable and do the thing you are so passionate about doing.
When you have a vision for enacting change, the initial pursuit can be lonely. But slowly, you build your voice, your reach, you find likeminded peers, and it starts to flow. But none of the good stuff happens unless you are willing to step outside of your comfort zone.
Find out more about the Inclusive Fashion & Design Collective and how you can get involved on its website.