Some Antics!

Accessibility in the Fashion Industry, with Alex Ayaub

Fashion accessibility advocate Alex Ayaub and guest host Adrianne Mallett will discuss inclusive design for digital experiences, beauty, and fashion. They'll share resources to learn more about accessible social media, accessible fashion and beauty products, accessible e-commerce experiences, and more.

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Transcript

[00:00:00] Adrianne: Howdy, howdy, y'all! Can y'all hear us? Drop in a "howdy" in the chat! It is Tuesday, so it's time for another Some Antics episode. I'm Adrianne Mallett and I'm guest hosting, and this week we have the one and only Alex Ayaub.

[00:00:21] Alex: That's too nice. There's definitely another Alex Ayaub out there, but thanks for that. Very excited to be here.

[00:00:27] Adrianne: Yeah. So Alex is very pervasive on Instagram. You may have seen her posts there. She mostly, I would say, writes about fashion. With the occasional, you know, posts about pickles. [giggles] Lots of other stuff. Bu what else do you want them to know about you?

[00:00:47] Alex: Yeah! Again, my name's Alex. I live in Las Vegas. I'm a writer, freelance content creator, and now I work for the streaming platform NEWNESS where I also stream every Thursday. And I really wanted to come on here to talk about, you know — I know you guys are having amazing conversations about accessibility, and there's always a conversation to be had about accessibility in fashion and in wear, and it's something that we should all care about and not just people that it pertains to but just really everyone! So I'm excited to get into it today.

[00:01:26] Adrianne: Yeah. And so you have a blog, and it is called Nines? Or The Nines?

[00:01:30] Alex: Yes. It's called The Nines. I started it right after college, which was more years ago than I'd like to admit. And I started it 'cause I kind of had a corporate job out of college and I just wanted a place to freely write. And so over the years I just use it as an outlet to write about what I want to write about. During the pandemic, it especially became a great outlet for me to just share what I was thinking with the world and I, one day, finally decided that I was going to share my own disability story. It was something I had kind of always skirted around on my Instagram. Obviously, people in my personal life knew about my physical disability. But I just took a couple months and I really wanted to get it right and wrote my disability story. And I couldn't believe the response to it. It was so overwhelmingly positive and just so many people that could relate to it that I never would have thought of. And I was like, "Man, there's really such a conversation to be had here in the fashion space and disability and how many people feel like they're on the outs of it, like they'll never be included." And I just haven't stopped talking about it since then, really!

[00:02:44] Adrianne: Yeah. And disclosure is so personal—

[00:02:47] Alex: Mhmm.

[00:02:47] Adrianne: And just, you know, thank you for writing that.

What I'm dropping in the chat right now is a blogpost specifically about fashion and accessibility. Could you kind of summarize what you wrote about in that post?

[00:02:59] Alex: Yeah! Basically, you know, I got my degree in apparel merchandising, and since I was very young, I always wanted to be working in fashion, not design. Like, props to designers. I can't sew, I can't thread a needle, I can't sew on a button. It's not going to happen for me. But I knew I wanted to be on the design side — or, I'm sorry, on the business side. Look, that's in my subconscious. Always wanted to be a designer, and then when I took one sewing class, like, "I can't do this." But wanting to be in the business side, I started working in fashion. I worked in fashion advertising right after college, and then I got a job as a women's buyer for a store in Metro Detroit. And I very quickly started realizing that the more fashion spaces I was in, the more rooms I was in, that my disability made me really self-conscious, and it made me feel very not included in any of the conversations that were happening around me.

And even in high school, throughout my childhood, I was in a wheelchair for a good amount of time, and it was pretty much impossible to find anything that I could wear that would be comfortable while I was sitting but still gave me a fashion identity as a 10-year-old, 12-year-old, 16-year-old. Everything I bought was, like, from the geriatric store. You know? Where they're like, "Yeah, this works for wheelchairs!" I'm like, "That's nice. I'm 16. Like, I want to look cool like my friends." And this was kind of before the dawn of being able to buy things online so easily.

[00:04:38] Adrianne: Right.

[00:04:39] Alex: And so I remember when I bought my prom dress online, my mom was like, "What are you doing?" Like, "You bought it online?" I was like, "Yeah, it'll be here in like two months!" It was, I mean, it's such a different time and we've made so many advances.

But realizing and seeing how much I struggled when I was young to find things that were going to work for me and seeing how that's still an issue for so many people now with disabilities across the board, it's become incredibly important to me to try to form an industry that's more inclusive of people with varying types of disabilities and with different needs.

[00:05:19] Adrianne: Yeah. So I see stolenthundr subscribed. I see that in the chat.

[00:05:23] Alex: Ooh!

[00:05:24] Adrianne: Thank you so much!

And also, yeah, so Alex and I are going to keep discussing, but if y'all have any comments you'd like to add, your point of view, or resources, that would be great if you want to add it to our chat. Also, feel free to drop any questions as you think of them. I'm saving time at the end to try to answer as many of your questions as possible. Yeah.

[00:05:45] Alex: Yeah, and just to BuildingBedrock's comment here, I know. It's like, you would think that there'd be some sort of resource where people could have a disability and keep their identity and also it's very easy and accessible for them to buy things that work for them. And it's easier, but it's still not that easy.

[00:06:05] Adrianne: Yeah.

So, it is August 31, which means we're about one week out from New York Fashion Week.

[00:06:12] Alex: Yes, we are.

[00:06:13] Adrianne: Yeah. Is that something that you follow the coverage for? Is it exciting?

[00:06:18] Alex: I do. It's become… I think I used to think of it as this big, like, glamorous, like, untouchable event. And I'm going to be really honest with you. I've had the fortune of being able to go for work in the past—

[00:06:34] Adrianne: Mm.

[00:06:35] Alex: And what I've realized about the fashion industry as a whole — Don't get me wrong. Obviously, I love fashion. I've spent my life's work on it so far. But it's a lot of just smoke and mirrors and people in a way putting on a front and trying to present themself in a certain way that's maybe not that authentic. And for a long time, that really turned me off to fashion, this industry that was really built on exclusivity. And I wanted an industry that was inclusive and made people feel like they belonged here and could find things that, you know, they could put on and feel like themselves. I mean, that's what clothing is. Clothing is how we're saying who we are to the world. And when you can't find things that make you feel confident in that way, then you're probably not going to wear things that make you feel really good, and then you don't feel good. And that's really at the responsibility of the fashion industry, because they're not providing these things for the people that need them.

So for Fashion Week, I don't keep up with it as diligently as I once did. Of course, I love going through and seeing the collections and I love knowing what's going to be coming for upcoming seasons. But I more or less just get my fashion inspo now from people that are on Instagram and that I feel like have an authentic sense of style. And even TikTok! Like, I love following people that are paving their own way in what it means to be stylish. Because it doesn't mean designers, it doesn't mean working in the industry, or having access to the best of the best. It's what you make it to be. So I'm a little bit off Fashion Week now, but I always kind of have one eye on it, I guess.

[00:08:16] Adrianne: Yeah! I think that's very valid. A lot of the things that you said, others do feel the same way. I'm, I'm sharing the link that I saw. It is Vogue Magazine, and the writer did a good job kind of explaining, like, "Where are we with that right now? Is Fashion Week accessible for people that are physically going there? And, like, what sort of representation is going on?" So if that sounds interesting, this is a nice article to kind of read.

I heard you bringing up those social media platforms.

[00:08:44] Alex: Mhmm.

[00:08:45] Adrianne: And it sounds like you kind of found a more welcoming time there. Can you tell me more about that?

[00:08:52] Alex: Yeah! I, you know… Because I was working in fashion, to my own fault, I found last year, I was just following a lot of people that were, like, tall, slender, like, people that just looked great in clothes, and that was "fashion inspo!" And I finally just got really tired of it. I was like, "This isn't inspiring. Like, this actually just makes me feel bad to see it because I'm never going to look like that in clothes, or I can't afford it, I can't wear that." And so I did a whole purge and I started finding and seeking out this community of people that was authentically defining what style meant to them, and I found this entire group of people that — whether they had a physical disability or something sensory, like they couldn't have shirts that were a certain fabric — seeing the obstacles that they were going through to find things that made them feel like themselves, it's not right, and it's not okay. But seeing how they navigate the world made me feel like, "Okay, I'm not alone in being a fashion lover that, at times, my life needs different things."

And fashion's been kinda able to skate by without including people. And I think, like in the Vogue article, even The Cut came out with a really great article yesterday on racism in the fashion industry, of what people let slide for the sake of design and style and fashion. And I think we're at a point where people are saying fashion is one of the biggest industries on earth, and the fact that it has decided to exclude the largest minority of people in the world is just not something that's acceptable anymore. And I think we're reaching a moment where people are starting to see that and it's something I really, really want to be a part of.

[00:10:43] Adrianne: Yeah. So, with that being said, as a consumer in this industry — and I like shopping as well — are there places where you're beginning to see and notice more adaptive fashion offerings?

[00:10:58] Alex: Definitely. I think who's leading the charge is definitely Zappos Adaptive. The work they do could not go unmentioned here. It is incredible, it's intentional. I work with them freelance on some projects, and I know that they're trying to make it so that it seems like a more… seamless shopping experience. Like, you shouldn't have to be like, "I'm shopping on Zappos Adaptive." "I'm shopping on Zappos, and there's all these options that work for me." They're doing incredible work.

I know that Slick Chicks for undergarments — For me, when I was a wheelchair user undergarments were the biggest thing for me. Like, I could not slide underwear up and down my leg all day long. And I had underwear, and my mom would cut up the side, safety pin it, and then I could take it off that way. And now Slick Chicks makes that, and it's comfortable and it's amazing, and I'm going to stock up before the surgery that I have this December, because I'm like, this is a cure! I mean, a solution to a problem.

And what I'm finding now is there seems to be a lot of kind of collectives and labs that are working on solutions for problems — Open Style Lab — just trying to figure out what they can do to work with brands maybe. Because I think brands hear "accessibility," and it's kind of a scary thing to them because they're like, "Well, we don't know what we're doing." There's probably no one disabled on their team, because not enough of these brands are bringing disabled people to the table, let alone making a product for them. I think they hear that and they go like, "Well, we can't possibly do that."

But you can't make a product for everyone. Like, you can't say, "Okay, this is going to work for people with assisted walking devices, okay, people with sensory issues…" You don't have to tackle every single thing in one brand. You just… There has to be a general consensus of the industry. "Hey, we're going to do better and we're going to work on this." "Okay, we're going to work on this." You don't have to be something for everyone. It just has to be a collective effort. And I think once the industry gets over that fear of like, "Well, we're not even going to touch that 'cause we don't know what we're doing," we can finally get somewhere with it.

Because we can't leave it up to Tommy Hilfiger, you know, and Target to create these collections, lines of clothing that is for people with disabilities. It has to be the norm! I mean, there's no reason someone shouldn't be able to walk into Nordstrom and be like, "This is what I need." I mean, billions of dollars go into their buying decisions, their in-house lines. There's no reason that someone shouldn't be able to walk into a major department store, or a store even like a Zara, and say, "Hey, I need this" and it's there. It's just way past time to start doing that. It should not be, like, an online thing. "And we have this special department!" It's like, no, put it in the freaking store, okay?

[crosstalk]

[00:14:03] Adrianne: Put it next to the other clothes, yeah.

[00:14:05] Alex: Exactly!

[00:14:06] Adrianne: And yeah, so for those that are still learning about this topic, I heard you calling out a few brands. I know Tommy Hilfiger has been praised a lot. I believe theirs, 2016 that they first had their adaptive clothing. And then target has earned a lot of praise. Yeah, and what's cool about Target is their stores are spread out further across the US. So that is cool that more options are, yeah.

[00:14:34] Alex: It's a big stride. I do appreciate that Target is thinking of accessibility in different ways apart from clothing. They do accessible Halloween costumes, and that kind of started this wave of, yeah, everybody should be providing that. You know, we have the budget to do so. We have the means to do so. And so that is, like you said, it's great because that's, I mean, nationwide and able to reach a really big audience.

I know UGG now is doing accessible boots, which, like, if UGG had had accessible boots when I was a teenager, I would not have known how to act, okay? Like, I wore these leg braces and they were really hard to, like, slide into a tall UGG boot. And all the girlies were wearing their, like, denim miniskirts with their tall UGG boots. And I was like, "Mom, this is so fun. Too bad I can't get it over!" Like, and then when I stopped wearing leg braces, I was like out and about my arms, but now they have the zipper up the side so you can, like, put your foot in. It's getting somewhere, and there's a lot of strides and of a lot of people to thank for that, and there's no doubt. But it's just on the up. It's just got to keep going.

[00:15:41] Adrianne: So I think that it would be helpful to give a few, like, granular examples of, like, what is adaptive fashion. So maybe you can talk about, like, Zappos Adaptive and like, they've got some shoe programs.

[00:15:54] Alex: They do. So, something that Zappos did that was really major is the… basically it's a program where you can buy two different shoe sizes. So, when I was growing up, I needed two different shoe sizes. One of my feet was significantly larger than the other from swelling and surgery, and I would buy one size 6 and, like, one size 10. And so they created a program where you can go in and say, "On my right foot, I need size 6. On my left foot, I need size 10," and they're going to match up a shoe for you and you're able to buy two different sizes. And it's really an incredible program for people with disabilities, people recovering from a surgery. Even, you know, I know a lot of elderly people get a lot of swelling, arthritis.

And it's really helpful to have programs that make it really easy to adapt to you. When I was growing up, I would go into Nordstrom and I'd be like, "I need these two different sizes." They'd bring out the two different boxes, and I would have to buy two different pairs of shoes and mix and match. And to make it so normal, like, "Yeah, come on and get your two different shoe sizes," just makes people feel better, too, about making a purchase like that. Going online, not having to email a company and be like, "I really need two different sizes. Can you help me?," I think is really incredible.

I think something that is really cool that's happening is disability fashion stylists who work with people with disabilities. Stephanie Thomas is an icon of industry.

[00:17:32] Adrianne: Yes!

[00:17:33] Alex: I mean, she is, like, unbelievable. She makes people with all different varying disabilities look unbelievable and so fashionable, and presents them in a way that says we're a part of this industry, too. I mean, we like fashion and we like glow and we like style. And she's doing absolutely incredible work with her styling for different magazines and campaigns and influencers.

There's one other thing I was going to share about that shoe program. What was it? I lost my train of thought.

[00:18:10] Adrianne: I'm gonna guess. Is it that you can buy only one, if you don't need…?

[00:18:14] Alex: You can buy only one as well. So, huge program for amputees.

[00:18:18] Adrianne: Yeah!

[00:18:19] Alex: Just being able to buy one in your certain size. Again, that's a great program for amputees as well, because if the foot is another size, then they're able to accommodate that as well. And I very much appreciate the thought that went into this program because… it just helps people live their life more comfortably! Like, you shouldn't have to buy two pairs of shoes to live your life. Like, I should be able to just go in somewhere and be like, "You know what? They're different sizes. I'm sorry." And Nordstrom did start doing "you can buy two different sizes," but I think it has to be within, like, just one size, and I'm like, okay, well that's not… That's a little bit too perfect of a scenario, like, "Oh, my foot's one size bigger than the other." And so for amputees, for people that need the different shoe sizes, I mean, it's heaven to just be able to live your life normally.

[00:19:15] Adrianne: I remember that very vividly, 'cause I'm a hearing aid user, but I only wear one. So when I was shopping for, like, Apple AirPods, it meant a lot to me that I could just buy for the ear that would use it. Yeah.

[00:19:29] Alex: Absolutely, yes. It's such a small thing that that company can do that's going to make a difference for so many people, and I think that's the sense that more fashion brands need to get behind. I mean, especially the ones that have the means to do it, I'm like, "Hello?? Like, time's up! Why haven't you done it yet?" And I think if they bring more people with disabilities to the table, they'll understand what needs to get done.

[00:19:53] Adrianne: But yeah, if you're, like, a company or a brand, like, that could be a good starting place because you don't have to change what you're manufacturing.

[00:20:01] Alex: Exactly.

[00:20:01] Adrianne: You're introducing new programs that serve your customers better.

[00:20:05] Alex: And I've reached out to a lot of brands, and I've told them, I've gone through their website for brands I really enjoy, and I've said, "These are your items that are accidentally accessible, that would work for many groups of people, and you're not targeting them. You're not marketing it to them. And you should maybe think about putting that in your marketing plans. Contact me for help. Like, I'd love to freelance for you." And a lot of brands are like, "Wait, what? Like, this is… This dress is accessible?" And I'm like, "Yeah, it actually is!" And they're not really using any people in their campaigns and their messaging and their marketing that this would also work for people with varying disabilities. And we obviously hate, like, just a marketing brag like "We used someone in a wheelchair." It's like, "That's nice. What do you provide for people in wheelchairs, or walking aids, or hearing aids, or sensory issues, or amputees?" But I think a lot of brands aren't even realizing that they have something for everyone but they're not including everyone.

[00:21:07] Adrianne: Yes. Thanks for bringing that up. The disabled community doesn't want hollow or performative representation, but if the representation—

[00:21:14] Alex: And we know! And we can tell.

[00:21:16] Adrianne: Yes!

[00:21:17] Alex: We can tell.

[00:21:18] Adrianne: So when it's meaningful, and if you hired a disabled model, you would then have someone wearing your products, wearing your clothes, and you could realize, like you said, some things are unintentionally accessible and that's really powerful, yeah.

[00:21:33] Alex: Exactly, and I think if I would've even seen one Limited Too kid, growing up, in a wheelchair, it would have blown my mind, okay? If I saw someone in a Hollister ad with a cane, I mean, it just would have meant everything. But it was more of a "You know what? I don't really belong here, and I want to belong so bad."

That's what the fashion industry runs on. And like, I hope, like, I'm not about to be exiled from fashion! It runs on the ideal that you want a sense of belonging through what you wear and if they create this bubble of exclusivity, then you're going to spend more, you're going to want more, and you're going to search for more. When really, if it was just an inclusive industry, we'd still be buying because it makes us feel good, not because it's a longing.

To answer michaelg's chat, some brands respond… and then ghost. They're like, "Oh, yeah! Of course!" And, like, I follow up and they're like, "Oh, um… Not right now." And I'm like, "Oh. Like, come on, guys. Like, I see what you're doing." And it's an uphill battle for sure, working with brands. But some have been — Even Zappos, who I've worked with, is like, "Yeah, of course we have Adaptive, and we're doing all this work, but what can we do better? Like, what are we missing? What is the messaging that you would want to see, that people you know would want to see?" And they work with so many groups of disabled people to really make everyone feel included.

And some brands really are authentically doing it. And like somebody said in the chat, we've got a spidey sense of when somebody is just making a grab at us. And it's not even appealing to us! It's so more like someone without a disability is like, "That's so nice!," and we're like, "Wait, wait a minute. Like, it's not adding up to us."

[00:23:27] Adrianne: So, one way that brands can prevent that is "nothing for us without us." Make sure that you're hiring disabled people into your marketing departments and your design and your technology departments, and you will touch these things before you share them.

[00:23:41] Alex: Exactly, exactly.

[00:23:42] Adrianne: Get that early, early feedback loop. Yeah.

[00:23:45] Alex: Yeah, bring disabled people to the table! And don't be afraid of it. I think a lot of people are hesitant, you know, because they don't want to make a mistake or accidentally offend someone in the workplace. Like, you know what? Like, that's on you. Just hire us. Hire us! And then it's going to make your company, your brand, your fashion line so much better for the world. It sounds cheesy, but it's true! When people feel more comfortable, it makes for a better world! And people are like, "Oh, that's so cliché." Okay, but it's true. Clichés can be true.

[00:24:16] Adrianne: Yes. And I love — everything you've said so far really highlights this is like, they need to do it.

[00:24:23] Alex: Mhmm.

[00:24:24] Adrianne: It's the right thing to do. A secondary argument is if they do not do it, they are leaving money on the table.

[00:24:31] Alex: For sure!

[00:24:32] Adrianne: So, Coresight News was saying that US consumers this year will spend about $1.3 billion on adaptive fashion.

[00:24:41] Alex: Mhmm!

[00:24:42] Adrianne: And so if they want, you know, to be in on that, yeah. But mostly they should do it because it's is the right thing to do.

[00:24:48] Alex: Definitely, yeah! And from a business standpoint, it is lucrative! I mean… for instance, like, I talked about Slick Chicks on my Instagram, the adaptive undergarments brand. They do bras now, they do underwear. And when I posted about it, I was like, "This has brought me to tears. This is exactly what I wanted when I was young. I can't believe this exists. This is unbelievable." And people that it didn't even pertain to were like, "You know what? I want to support them. I'm going to buy it. I'm going to tell my friends about it. I'm going to buy it as a gift to someone that I know could need it." People care about other groups being included, too! And there's so much, like you said, left on the table when it's completely left out of the conversation.

[00:25:35] Adrianne: The same company that — they do research for industry — they reported that the potential market is 64.3 billion. So that is such a huge gap, yeah.

[00:25:47] Alex: It's huge. It's huge. And it's… What I even said in my accessibility post and in my disability story post is that I have always loved fashion but fashion has not always loved me, and that always made me feel a little bit on the outside. And when you feel on the inside — like, when I feel loyalty to a brand and I feel like I'm on the inside, I'm going to spend more. Even if it's not even something I need, I'm like, "Oh, I want to support them." So if you have a brand that makes people feel like they're a part of something, that they belong, the money's gonna come in from a business standpoint.

[00:26:22] Adrianne: So a question I had for you, because I work in software and you could probably better answer this. Is the beauty industry considered, like, a subset of fashion, or are they, like, parallel industries?

[00:26:35] Alex: I'd say parallel industries. I would say in the last 10, 15 years, beauty has really exploded on its own and now kind of exists separately. I have personally found — I mean, I've always been very interested in beauty. For me, after college really took off, I became much more interested in skincare and makeup and what really makes me feel good. But beauty, I personally have found through working with beauty brands, has found more of an incentive to be inclusive.

And the way that they skate by is in product packaging. A lot of packaging is not accessible to many groups of people. It can be very hard to open. I mean, I think there's only a handful of companies out there that also produce their packaging with braille. And while they've been inclusive in their messaging and their branding and their collection of colors that they offer, for actual products it's kind of like, "Ohh, we're not quite there yet." But I do find as a whole, much more welcomed by the beauty industry and I think they're making greater strides at this point as an industry, as a whole.

I even… I did a NEWNESS stream where I was watching with Rare Beauty and there was a big—

[00:28:05] Adrianne: Ohh, yes!

[00:28:06] Alex: Yeah, there was a big rumor going around that Selena Gomez wanted the bottles to be good for people with arthritis.

[00:28:12] Adrianne: Yeah!

[00:28:12] Alex: And I was hanging with the Chief Marketing Officer in the chat, and I was like, "I love that you made, like, the bottles accessible for people! It's hard to—" And they were like, "Actually, we didn't on purpose." They were like, "That was totally unintentional, and we just started getting feedback that it was so much easier to open for people with dexterity issues." And I was like, "Well, keep it up, I guess!"

[00:28:34] Adrianne: Yeah! Thank you for bringing that up. So I, yeah, I thought, like, the same thing. So I'm active — I read a lot of Reddit, and there's some great, like, makeup subreddits, and there was a lot of discussion about this packaging. It looked similar to other foundations or liquid products out there, but it sort of had, like, the round bulb shape on the top…

[00:29:00] Alex: Yes.

[00:29:00] Adrianne: …which was considered, like, easy to maybe grab and open for certain people.

[00:29:04] Alex: Mhmm.

[00:29:05] Adrianne: And then I found that a Reddit user had emailed them and asked them was this intentionally accessible, and they said the same thing, yeah. But I'm hoping that, like you said, like, based on the warm response to it, that they would continue to have that sort of lid or top to those makeup products. That would be great.

[00:29:24] Alex: Exactly, and even I'm seeing here in the chat, like, clamshell packaging. Like—

[00:29:28] Adrianne: Yes!

[00:29:28] Alex: Oh my god, when I'm, like, trying to get in it for like ten minutes, I'm like, "Who is this for?" Like, just make it easy! Like, if it looks good, fine, but I'd rather just be able to open it, and I'm sure so many other people would as well.

And I hope it promotes brands like Rare Beauty to actually see that great feedback and think about what market — how many people were excited about that! That was incredible to see, and I think more beauty brands should be thinking about their packaging because a lot of brands are doing a really great job in inclusivity in their marketing, in their messaging, even in their hiring, but again, if they bring more people with disabilities to the table, they'll see that maybe their packaging is not up to par for a lot of people that are users of their product.

[00:30:13] Adrianne: Yeah, so now you're making me think, like, holistically, is the entire experience from beginning to my face accessible.

[00:30:22] Alex: Mhmm.

[00:30:22] Adrianne: And so, like, packaging has layers. We were talking about the first layer of packaging, which the product is poured into, but then, you're right, it often arrives to you as a customer within some cardboard or plastic. Is that accessible? And then, what about the place that you purchased it? So, if it is an in-person store, are you doing enough to make sure that your store is accessible? And if it's online, are these beauty companies being responsible about an accessible digital experience? I think this is another area where the industry can and need to do better. Yeah.

[00:30:59] Alex: I agree. I walk into a lot of stores as someone that's not a wheelchair user at this point in my life, just knowing those experiences that I've had, and walked through and been like, "This wouldn't be right." Like, there's nowhere to sit down. Or, man, this font is so small on, like, the Sephora things that said what it is and what the shade is. And I just find there's so many missing parts to making these in-store experiences accessible, but also online, too! And I think anyone that's even launching a brand now, if you're going to start a website that is not accessible, it's kind of like, "Alright, you gotta rethink about what you're doing here. Who is this really for? Who do you really want on your website?"

[00:31:45] Adrianne: It's disingenuous and it's like a red flag. It makes me feel like you don't really want me as a customer—

[00:31:50] Alex: Yes.

[00:31:50] Adrianne: —because you haven't thought about it at that point in time.

[00:31:54] Alex: Yes, definitely.

[00:31:56] Adrianne: Something that I have seen on makeup websites as well as clothing websites is something called an accessibility overlay. Have you ever heard of that?

[00:32:04] Alex: I don't think I have, but I'd like to know!

[00:32:07] Adrianne: Yeah! So it is… There's companies that have started to sell what they promise that's "Okay, you add one line of code and you make your whole website accessible!"

[00:32:19] Alex: Yeah.

[00:32:19] Adrianne: But it's really not that simple. It's very dishonest, and they can actually cause a lot more harm than they do good. And there's a lot to unpack there. I know that Ben has discussed overlays on past episodes. But I've dropped it into the chat, overlayfactsheet.com.

[00:32:39] Alex: Ooh!

[00:32:39] Adrianne: That's one of my favorite resources for understanding why.

[00:32:43] Alex: Okay.

[00:32:44] Adrianne: But I think the biggest reason that this happens is maybe a lot of these companies don't have in-house IT. Maybe they have other departments that are, you know, creating their brand and then maybe they are outsourcing or trying to get a third-party vendor to do accessibility. Sometimes that's not enough, and so it's just important for companies to spend more time getting to know, like, what are the real needs of their users.

[00:33:11] Alex: Definitely. I think there's something to be said, too, for… which I really want to look into this because I have not heard that phrase, but I think there's something to be said for brands to say, "We kind of don't know what we're doing here, but we're going to do our best" instead of just kind of, like you said, throwing this overlay on and being like, "We're accessible now" and maybe it does more harm than good. I really appreciate it when I hear from brands saying, like, "This is new for us" or "We don't really know what we're doing here. Give us some feedback. But also, like, we're trying, and if we're not doing a good job, please let us know." I would much rather hear that from a brand than just slapping something on and calling it accessibility. Because it's not authentic, and it's not really helping people. And if it's not really helping people, then it's not for people. I would just much rather have honesty from any brand. And I think a lot of newer brands are that way, but I think kind of the old school has not latched on yet to that honesty and authenticity.

[00:34:13] Adrianne: And it's a lot. It's a lot to learn all at once.

[00:34:16] Alex: Mhmm!

[00:34:16] Adrianne: It can take a long time to get it right, so making sure that your feedback doors are, like, really open, make sure that people know, your customers know how can they give you feedback. And then when you get it, you know, when someone like you, Alex, takes time to send an email. Yeah, feedback is a gift.

[00:34:33] Alex: It is! It is! I love feedback! Like, it's how we get better. And it's how we just make things better. You know, we don't have to be right, we just have to get it right. And sometimes you can't get it right without having feedback from people that are having a different experience than you, and that's what makes us completely better people.

[00:34:55] Adrianne: And so, this is kind of a good segue. I wanted to really talk today about the intersection of technology with adaptive fashion. Yeah, so an example that I know of is, like, I got, last year, a lot of messages from friends who were like, "Adrianne, did you see this cool shoe from Nike? It's so cool and it's accessible." And like, it is. And things like that are really interesting, but they're very high-tech. So can you… like, what are your thoughts when you see these really high-tech bespoke options for adaptive fashion?

[00:35:35] Alex: Yeah, so the Nike FlyEase, it's a wonderful shoe. It's, you know… been a really good development for Nike to get into accessibility. However, my thought is always accessibility has to also come with ease. And I don't think when you… I think there's something to be said for disability and then creating products that are more high-end, more technical. They're going to cost more, and therefore you've taken out the accessibility of many people being able to get them. There's a lot of people in general that would not be able to afford that price point.

And there's not a lot of accessible products in a very affordable price point. There's a lot of markup because maybe they're not creating as many or the materials cost more to make it. And we're just not at a place yet in the industry where we are offering accessible options at an accessible price point. And I think that builds a wall around people and we're like, "I need these products but can't necessarily afford them." I think we have a long way to go in offering options that are affordable, accessible, and easy to obtain. Don't have to go to a store to get them. Don't have to… it's not a limited edition release where they sell out in 30 minutes from Nike. It needs to be something that I can just go online and get, and it's not gonna break the bank.

And I think that's a huge obstacle that the industry is only going to overcome when more people are making accessible options and it drives the price point down, because right now, accessibility almost seems like kind of that limited edition, "Look at this thing we're doing as an extra. Ooh, it's gonna cost a little more, it's going to be a little bit more exclusive to get."

When it just becomes the norm across all major brands. Small businesses are popping up. I mean, small businesses, absolutely carrying the accessibility movement.

[00:37:42] Adrianne: Yes.

[00:37:42] Alex: Like, there's just so many small businesses popping up that are really trying to be authentic and do it right.

[00:37:47] Adrianne: Mhmm.

[00:37:48] Alex: Until we reach that point, I think it is hard to get people things that are affordable and accessible and get over that hurdle of just it being really… It's expensive to be disabled, okay? Like, if you think about it. I've been saying I want a T-shirt that says "It's expensive to be me, i.e. disabled," because things cost so much money, so much money, and we just need to get past that to make it truly accessible across all meanings of the word.

[00:38:21] Adrianne: So I love that you brought up small brands. I just shared something. So because a lot of the folks today are technologists, if you are in a situation where you have influence on algorithms, please be aware of possible bias in your algorithms. Some small brands this year were feeling like they're censored or not favorably in the algorithm. So that's a good issue to be aware of the other things.

[00:38:47] Alex: The Vogue article. Yeah, yeah. And I think Slick Chicks was mentioned in this. They were saying that—

[00:38:51] Adrianne: I think so, too, yeah.

[00:38:52] Alex: —you can post an underwear pic, a bikini pic on Instagram all day, but the second you post a picture of a woman in a wheelchair, like, fastening her undergarments, we're getting flagged! And the algorithm is…

[00:39:03] Adrianne: Not fair.

[00:39:04] Alex: It's not fair! And it's so important for inclusivity of the algorithm it's not discriminating against these images and campaigns, and there's so much work to be done there.

[00:39:16] Adrianne: Oh, and then also, corroborating what you were saying just now about a lot of those high-tech solutions. They are very expensive. There's a Refinery29 article I dropped which is quoting Stephanie Thomas. She does designing with Cur8able and she gave a really good point of view about "It's nice to have those. They can be inspiring and spread awareness. But we don't want to have, like, too much of a reliance on custom-made clothing when there's still such gaps for just normal, everyday clothes." Yeah.

[00:39:51] Alex: It's unfortunate because we're still, for the most part, even though we've made so many strides and people have worked so hard in this industry to make it more inclusive, we're still at a point where it's on the consumer to find the things that work for them. And it makes it hard! Like, you might not be able to find a dress that works for you that is being marketed as accessible. You kind of just have to go out and search and find one. And I think, honestly, a great start, which is another thing I usually mention to brands — which no one has picked up yet, so I'd be getting back on them — is offering filters on the website. So if you can code up a filter to "I need something for sensory issues, it needs to have magnetic buttons, or it can't have any buttons, no zippers, it has to be in this fabric" — and kind of having an accessibility filter. If you're not going to offer an accessibility line, hire someone to create an algorithm, to go to the website, figure out what's accessible for different groups of people, and put those filters on to at least make it an easier shopping experience. If I can go in and put a filter on that says," I need sandals with 1 to 2 inch heel height, open toe," I should also be able to have one that, "Hey, I need one with a zipper up the side for a foot brace or a leg brace," or "I need something that I don't have to zip up. I can just slip it on over my head and I can sit in it." And I think that's a great place and a kind of a non-scary place for brands to begin.

[00:41:22] Adrianne: So to the developers or designers who are listening today who are in these sectors, that would be really cool. Could you talk about it with your team, to say, like, "Hey, on this UI that we built, whether it's an app or it's a website, can we filter? Can we filter by solution? Can we filter by a feature?" 'Cause I think it would be helpful to say, like, "Here is clothing that would be helpful for like mobility," but maybe you want something specific like a magnetic closure or a velcro closure. Yeah. So it would be more accessible, but everybody would benefit.

[00:41:59] Alex: Definitely. I think that helps to, also, just from, you know, a technology standpoint to see what are your customers looking for. If you go in and see that someone's trying to set up belts or for magnetic closures, and you're getting so many people searching this in a day, in a month… this is now a market you realize you're missing, and maybe you need to make a buy for clothes that feature that. And I think it's a good way to look into what customers want. And as we know, in retail, online and in-store user experience is everything. It's what keeps people coming back. It creates loyalty. More dollars are spent. And I think part of user experience is ease and feeling like I can find things that are for me, and I think filters are great a way to improve user experience.

[00:42:51] Adrianne: So I see a question from lunchdev. That's Chan, and he's saying, "How do we best improve the cost of accessible clothing? Do we buy from brands who are doing it right? If so, what are some examples of brands who are doing it well?"

[00:43:05] Alex: So, I always tell my friends when they kind of ask how they can support, I say, "Look at brands that are offering specifically accessible options and support them how you can." I mean, top of the head right now is even thinking of Tommy Hilfiger. Like, you can buy a Tommy Hilfiger sweater. They're cute. A sweatshirt, great. And I just think the more we support brands that are leading the charge on accessibility, just the better it is for everyone because they're going to create more, they're going to have more funds to do so.

Definitely support small businesses that are offering accessible options, because they're the ones that really need kind of that funding behind them. A really great place to look honestly is… What's it called? It'll come to me, it'll come to me. But it's where you can see, like, where innovation is happening in accessibility. It will come to me.

But I also say look at stores, look at… Like, I tell my friends, when you are in a store, think about you're a person with a walking aid walking through the store. How's it going? Like, are you getting through? Is it really hard? 'Cause even though Target is offering accessible options all the time, when I'm like walking through the aisles, like, even walking them, I'm like, "Oof. Like, this is really tight. This would be really hard." And when I used to go to Nordstrom with Mom in my wheelchair, we'd be, like, moving racks around, like, trying to get in the room.

And as soon as everybody starts caring about this, that's when change happens, right? I mean, with any movement, it's when people who it doesn't affect demand change as well. And I think the more we demand from brands, the more brands that make accessible clothing, and that's going to drive the price down, because in any industry, when you have something that is like the Nike shoe, for instance, like, "This is special. This is not the norm. This is something we're offering to you guys as a special category of our brand," it's going to just drive the price up the more that these accessible items are seen as exclusive, as special. When it just becomes the norm in the industry, that's going to drive the price down and it's going to lend a hand to smaller businesses, smaller brands to also create—

Exactly, "The disabled can have a shoe, as a treat."

[00:45:32] Adrianne: "As a treat!"

[00:45:33] Alex: I love as-a-treats. It's like, "Ooh, here's something you can sit in — as a treat." Like, everyone's like, "Oh my god, you're doing God's work! You're amazing!" It's, like, alright, everybody now. Let's get into it. Make it accessible.

[00:45:47] Adrianne: So, yeah! So in addition to, you know, making purchases and fiscal support—

[00:45:52] Alex: Mhmm.

[00:45:52] Adrianne: —if you're a developer or you just have familiarity with, like, the accessibility of the digital experiences, that would be another way, Chan, that you could support the movement. Like, you can, if you're comfortable, use your social media platform, or maybe send that email, but letting them know "I liked this - I noticed this and I like this." But also if you see something that is problematic, like, "Hey, I noticed you're using an overlay. You may like overlayfactsheet.com."

[00:46:23] Alex: Like, I always tell people, "Take what you are good at and use that for good." Because I cannot… I don't know how to code, I'm not good on the technology side, but someone that is can make a difference there. My friends would say, "Well, I'm not a person who, like, really knows fashion," or like, "What am I supposed to do?"

The most basic thing you can do to expand your mind is any platform you're on for a good amount of time — whether it's Twitter, Instagram, Twitch, TikTok — follow disabled creators, and then, seeing them every day, it's going to become the norm in your life so that when you see things that are not accessible to them or are excluding them, you're going to think, "Wait a minute, this isn't what I'm seeing in my everyday life." Like, my whole feed now everywhere is disabled creators from all kinds of different backgrounds, with all different disabilities, abilities, and it's changed my whole world of what I log on and see every day.

I'm like, "Wow, look at what Crutches and Spice is talking about!" It's, like, my favorite account on TikTok and Instagram all around. She is, like, the funniest person, and she talks about disability in such a way where it makes you feel like, "Oh, yeah, why aren't we doing…" — Yes! — "Why aren't we doing those things?" Like, this seems so normal when she's talking about it.

And if you're not following people that don't look like you or have experiences like you, then you're just always going to be caught in your own bubble and thinking about things that work for you. So the most basic thing you can do with any platform you're on, follow people. Imani's great — Crutches and Spice. I love thedisabledhippie on Instagram. I just started — let me look it up — I just started following a Twitch streamer on Twitter that I'm, like, obsessed with. But it's truly the most, like, elementary thing that you can do.

Also my Twitter, I need to get a real one. It's like my finsta. I just do it to, like, lurk than like things.

[00:48:23] Adrianne: Yeah! If you get a real one, tell us because we would love to follow you, yeah.

And, yeah, you can align this to your hobbies and your interests. So if you naturally consume, like, a lot of content about, like, you know, esports or, you know, football or, you know, anything up there. For me, that was fashion and beauty. That was something that I loved reading and watching, and so it was really, like, meaningful to seek out disabled creators and have a more diverse media diet.

[00:48:52] Alex: Exactly.

[00:48:53] Adrianne: It makes you feel special.

[00:48:55] Alex: It makes you feel like more media is for you as well. You're not always reading things that are "aspirational" or "inspirational." It's just things that feel like you and feel like a place of belonging. And I think the internet can be bad for a lot of things, but when it's at its best, it's to bring people together and to form community, and the quickest way to do that in your life is connecting with people that don't look like you or, if you are a part of a marginalized group, connecting with people that are also part of that group, not always looking at people that maybe you want to be like, who wear the best clothes and the best makeup. Like, it's such a beautiful feeling to log on and feel like, "Yeah, this is my space."

Lucy Dawson—

[00:49:38] Adrianne: Oh, yes!

[00:49:38] Alex: —is someone who I follow, and I just love her on Twitter.

Just follow more people that aren't the… Like, the amount of influencers I used to follow. I look back and I'm like, "Damn, I really felt like shit all the time!" Looking at that, I'm like, "I'm not tall, blonde, living in Norway, like, with my Chanel bag." And I was like, "Why am I not?" And just following people that made me feel a sense of belonging was such a shift in my online life and my.real-life life as well.

[00:50:13] Adrianne: Yeah! And then also, if you have capacity, meaning you have, like, time and you have the energy, like, as somebody on social media, you can start to have these dialogues with others. You can say, like, "Hey, I noticed that you don't put alt text on your imagery."

[00:50:32] Alex: Mhmm.

[00:50:33] Adrianne: "Like, would you consider doing that?" Like, you can have these sorts of conversations online, yeah.

[00:50:38] Alex: Exactly. Someone said to me, like, "Hey, would you mind putting captions on your video?" And I was like, "Oh my god!" I was like, "How was I not doing this before? That's insane." Like, I wasn't even thinking of the captions in, like, my tiny, little, 30-second videos. And so now I'm hyperaware that somebody is seeing this — even if it's one person, I don't care — that is going to need captioning on this.

[00:51:00] Adrianne: Yeah! And yeah, I've been on the internet for such a large portion of my life, but I haven't always had awareness of digital accessibility.

[00:51:10] Alex: We're always learning!

[00:51:12] Adrianne: We're always learning.

[00:51:12] Alex: That's what it's for. We're always learning, and that's okay to get it wrong as long as you work on—

[00:51:15] Adrianne: Yes.

[00:51:16] Alex: —getting it right after, once you know better.

[00:51:18] Adrianne: Exactly.

[00:51:18] Alex: When you know better, you do better, and that's all you can do.

[00:51:21] Adrianne: I was just… You took the words out of my mouth! I just want to say that. And if you mess up, you can forgive yourself and try again. Like, I mean, it takes time to form these habits, yeah.

[00:51:31] Alex: Exactly.

[00:51:33] Adrianne: So I'm checking the chat. If y'all have any more questions, now is a good time to drop them while we still have Alex, yeah.

[00:51:42] Alex: And to Michael's comment, "It helps that people who advocate inclusivity are usually have the loudest in terms of sharing what they know." It's so true. We are yelling from the rooftops. Like, it's… unless your ears are just, like, totally closed off to it, you're hearing it. We just need people to pay attention. And I think especially with all the social justice movements, I think people are becoming more open to caring about things that don't necessarily affect them in their everyday life. And again, that's when we start to see change. You have to care.

Let's see. "Are you captioning…"

[00:52:21] Adrianne: Oh, that's me.

[00:52:22] Alex: I keep forgetting that you're spacejamdonut.

[00:52:27] Adrianne: I haven't seen the new Space Jam movie, so I don't know if this is still a cool, like, Twitch username.

[00:52:33] Alex: I'm avoiding it because I haven't heard the best things about it and, like, original Space Jam is, I mean, the most iconic and everything.

[00:52:40] Adrianne: Yeah.

[00:52:41] Alex: And so I don't want to, like, taint it in my mind that there's something else out there that could, like, make it not as wonderful. So, I'm just… I'm pretending — That's what I'm closing my ears off to. Don't close your ears out to accessibility but, like, Space Jam 2, I don't know, you can close them a little bit. It's okay.

[00:52:55] Adrianne: Yeah. Something else that we can ask ourselves is, like, in addition to, like, what are our hobbies and interests, how do I align it with accessibility. If you're a technologist, is there a certain technology that you're either pursuing at work or on your own you're researching it? And, like, try doing a web search for that keyword and "accessibility." And maybe they seem like disjointed topics, but you'd be surprised what would pop up. So "blockchain and accessibility," "NFT and disability."

[00:53:27] Alex: Right.

[00:53:27] Adrianne: There are so many, like, issues that do intersect in ways that you might not predict. So it's worth it to take the time to research and always, always learning, yeah.

[00:53:38] Alex: And I really learned a lot from you today, because like I said, I'm not on the technology side of things per se. I'm very interested in it, but it's not my personal expertise since, like I said, you know, kinda do good with what you're good at. And so it's really interesting to hear the developments that could be made on that side still yet.

And I have a friend who's trying to develop — I mean, if you even think about it, in schools, they're trying to develop a kind of like a tablet that will have all the content than every other kid in the class is learning, and the entire thing is going to be in braille. And there's just so many things — oh my god, there's so many powerful minds at work and if they can shift part of their focus to making their industries more accessible and inclusive, oh my god, how much could be done! I mean, the world would shift.

And it's constantly getting better. Like, I can't believe some of the strides that I've seen since I was a kid. I mean, when I was growing up, my school didn't even have, like, an extra wheelchair. There wasn't even… Like, one time a kid fell and they had a seizure and they had to come to my classroom, lift me out of my wheelchair. And I sat on the floor while they took it to somebody else.

Like, there's just been so many huge strides. And I think of all the access we have now to technology and connecting with one another and meeting people and all the things that we can do, and it's exciting to hear you talk about it from that standpoint of technology and the algorithm and user experience. It's just really inspiring for me to hear that.

[00:55:22] Adrianne: I just had so much fun today. Like, I learned a lot as well. The perspective that you offer is really valuable. I think it's so cool what you're doing in your existing space, and I love how you use your platform.

[00:55:35] Alex: Thank you, yeah. It's been really fun to shift my platform into things that I maybe thought most people didn't care about, but just shifted to things I care about. And I think when you talk about what you're passionate about, other people want to listen, whether they relate to it or not. And so it's been really wonderful to do it through Instagram and through my own stream on NEWNESS, and just seeing it take off has been really awesome.

[00:56:02] Adrianne: Where can we catch you, then? What's your next thing?

[00:56:05] Alex: So, I mean, every day on Instagram, I'm @alexandraayyy. And then I stream every Thursday night on NEWNESS, so newness.com/alex. I'm actually relaunching my stream this Thursday. There's going to be awesome giveaways, prizes, fun segments. And I always try to combine beauty and fashion with accessibility and disability on my stream. We have really open chats about what that looks like to different people. And it's just a beautiful, inclusive, and — Yeah, let me add a link. Thanks, Ben! You guys are better than I am at streaming, hosting, and writing in the chat. There we go.

Oh my god! This is embarrassing, but it's asking me to log in to Twitch. I never even logged in. If you could drop it—

[00:56:59] Adrianne: Yeah!

[00:56:59] Alex: —it would be newness.com/alex. Because, like I said, the technology part of it, I'm getting in on it. Thank you guys for my microphone help—

[00:57:11] Adrianne: Oh! [laughs]

[00:57:12] Alex: —earlier as well. Thank you! Oh, thank you so much, Adrianne. That helps. Yes, every Thursday at 5pm, there I am on NEWNESS streaming. And message me on Instagram if you want to further the conversation from today. And Ben and Adrianne — Adrianne, you are a wonderful host.

[00:57:28] Adrianne: Oh, thank you!

[00:57:28] Alex: And I really had a lot of fun this morning. I really appreciate you having me. Thank you.

[00:57:33] Adrianne: Thank you!

So next week, y'all, Ben will be back, and Ben is going to have Eric Bailey as the guest. They're going to be talking more about inclusive design!

[00:57:40] Alex: Ooh!

[00:57:41] Adrianne: So that going to be next Tuesday, returning to our normal stream time, so 12pm Central Time, yeah.

[00:57:49] Alex: Amazing! I'll log in and tune in!

[00:57:53] Adrianne: Awesome. Awesome to meet you.

So have a great rest of the day! Bye, everyone!

[00:57:58] Alex: Thank you! Bye! Thank you!