It’s been a long time coming, but the world of high street fashion is starting to understand that there is no generic, ‘one size fits all’ customer. Shoppers can be older, larger, taller, smaller—all sorts of shapes and sizes, especially when buying online.
Major brands have taken steps forward in this respect: Nike unveiled a ‘plus-size mannequin’ in its London shop this month, receiving plaudits for its commitment to encouraging people from all backgrounds to be active.
Nevertheless, accessibility remains a big problem for the industry. Activist Sophie Morgan—one of the only disabled TV presenters in the world—has been clear that while it may have become easier to actually get into shops, this access “doesn’t mean we feel welcome and able to fully engage”. Clothing is often out of reach, and staff can be either unable or unwilling to cater for a disabled person’s specific needs.
Aside from the obvious social need to address this—8.6 million people in the UK are disabled, equivalent to 14% of the population—businesses that reject people with disabilities are missing out on their immense spending power, estimated to be worth £420m ($531m) per week.
So, Morgan thought about a solution: What if there were a way for shops to openly demonstrate their commitment to supporting shoppers with disabilities?
Her response was the ‘Mannequal’, a special wheelchair mannequin designed for shop windows and online style catalogues. Intended to represent the wider disabled spectrum, the Mannequal is available in a range of colours, styles and tones.
“The Mannequal is more than just a wheelchair in a window with a mannequin on it,” Morgan told the BBC. “For me, first and foremost it’s a symbol of inclusivity. It’s a sign that people with disabilities are welcome here.
“The challenge for me is to prove that there is not only reason to do this from a socially responsible position—there’s also a value in doing this because you’re to open up your business to an enormous demographic of people.”
Adidas and Debenhams stocked the mannequal for a period of time but seemed not to be interested in a long-term commitment. This is something she’d like to change—it’s only by having a constant presence that ingrained attitudes begin to change and difference becomes normalised.
Maybe now is the perfect moment for such progress to happen. Morgan’s relentless positivity—she describes her personal challenges as a “unique chance for creativity”—could be exactly the sort of attitude needed to persuade business owners about the win-win of diversifying their audience. Statements of intent matter, and disabled mannequins could be the first step towards a more inclusive future.