The British Designer Putting Adaptive Fashion On The Catwalk
In September 2022, a clip from Chamiah Dewey’s London Fashion Week debut went viral on TikTok – and shone a light on a huge gap in what many had thought of as an industry becoming slowly but surely more inclusive. British designer Dewey’s show featured models with Dwarfism, some in wheelchairs, and those with mobility issues and brittle bone disease. All were women under 4ft 11” – a hugely underrepresented community on the catwalk.
With an early interest in fashion and an artistic background, it was no surprise that Dewey pursued a career in design. But she found her purpose while volunteering at a youth programme in 2018. There, she met a fellow volunteer with achondroplasia – the most common form of Dwarfism – and became conscious that people with disabilities were being ignored in the fashion industry.
“At the time, there was only one brand in Germany that was doing it, but their clothes were quite basic and expensive,” explains Dewey. She felt compelled to create not only affordable but also stylish clothes. Although as an average-height person, she had mixed feelings. “Initially, I wasn’t sure how to approach people… I had to learn the correct terminologies,” she says.
And so, in the years prior to launching her eponymous label in 2021, the now-24-year-old conducted extensive research. While still a student at London College of Fashion, she surveyed women with Dwarfism, developed the world’s first tailor’s dummy in the form of a woman with achondroplasia, and published template books to show people of short stature belong in fashion spaces. Dewey’s authenticity and dedication to adaptive fashion are what have ultimately gained her support from the community. She has since launched collections of loungewear, bridalwear, shoes and menswear.
However, this level of representation is still lacking across all creative fields. And ongoing financial backing remains an obstacle. Ultimately, says Dewey, greater visibility is the key to seeing change. “One quarter of the UK population is disabled, and yet only 4% in the media are disabled. This is where the (biggest) issue is.”
Yelena Grelet is a London-based freelance journalist