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UK Must Catch Up and Lead on Fashion Diversity

In the UK at present their are only two models with disabilities signed to major agencies and no UK brand that regularly uses disabled models in their campaigns. Why should disability in fashion still be allowed to be seen as a one-off, or as a publicity stunt?

The idea for Models of Diversity was born back in 2008, when I took part in Gok Wan's "Miss Naked Beauty". Thousands of beautiful women, representing of all of us - all races, sizes, shapes and ages.

Except later on it became clear that even there we hadn't grasped the full problem. For example, were transgender aspirants present? It wasn't so long ago, but the idea of a transgender model was hardly common. Little people? No sign.

But looking back by far the greatest omission was of models with a disability. No doubt some contenders did have a disability that wasn't immediately obvious. But wheelchair users? Amputees? People with vitiligo? None to be seen!

Challenging this outmoded idea of what beauty is was a major passion for my founding of MoD. Confidence is so important to being a successful model. Turning through a glossy magazine but finding no one who looks like you can extinguish any thoughts of pursuing a modelling career. This is especially true for young people, developing their identity and ideas of what looks are presented as attractive and those you just don't see.

Gok's competitors were self-selecting - so did no one with a disability, or just a physically unusual trait, feel that they could possibly be in with a chance to compete? Not even feel that this was an event they belonged at?

If the fashion is about anything, it is surely about the new, the cutting edge and leading the public's idea of form and design. Yet when it comes to choice of models, it lags behind its consumers' recognition for the potential of beauty in all of us, regardless of shape, size, race, gender definition, age and not least disability.

At present the UK is very reserved when it comes to disability in fashion. We are way behind a number of countries including the US, where models with disabilities are employed along side regular models for brand campaigns such as Nordstrum and Diesel.

In my eyes, the UK should be setters not followers when it comes to fashion; we have such a big presence within fashion with some major fashion houses and brands being UK based, that it's crazy that in 2016 we are still fighting for equality. But unfortunately this is the case. We see occasional pieces in mainstream media but they are still novelty items. This is why Models of Diversity is delighted with HuffPost's "Fashion For All campaign" exploring all aspects of diversity in the industry.

Whether it is due to us being more reserved than other countries in many ways, or being scared of change, this is one change that needs to happen!

We need to keep up with other countries and in other instances should be setting a president for others to follow. All eyes are on London during fashion week, but even then disability is only shown recently as a one-off, having one amputee model walking. This is not good enough, we are a country where disability is still seen as taboo and is not embraced in a positive way at all within fashion!

In the UK at present their are only two models with disabilities signed to major agencies and no UK brand that regularly uses disabled models in their campaigns. Why should disability in fashion still be allowed to be seen as a one-off, or as a publicity stunt?

We are models who more than earn our stripes within fashion and show time and time again that we are more than capable of holding our own next to any other model on the catwalk. And we should be given our dues and embraced by the fashion industry instead of being shunned. It is particularly galling to see able-bodied models like Kendall Jenner, using a wheelchair merely as a prop in a photoshoot when a model who uses one day-to-day doesn't get a look in!

One of Models of Diversity's biggest strengths is its support from the public. Our street surveys and social media followers tell us UK consumers have been ready for a more representative range of models for some time and they're certainly not fazed by disability. And the cheers and applause at our shows tell us a wheelchair, crutches or missing limb is no bar to ruling the catwalk. So it's natural we would go out to with a petition to demonstrate the public is ready.

The UK is already so behind with this, that we shouldn't be left in the dark. Young people growing up with disabilities should be able to see that their own country embraces and represents them within fashion, which is what our petition is calling for... for the disability ratio to be fairly represented within fashion and media.

This February HuffPost UK Style is running a month-long focus on our Fashion For All campaign, which aims to highlight moments of colour, size, gender and age diversity and disability inclusivity in the fashion and beauty world.

We will be sharing moments of diversity at London Fashion Week with the hashtag #LFW4All and we'd like to invite you to do the same. If you'd like to blog about diversity or get involved, email us here.

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