Life

Meet three people pushing fashion forward for the 1.5 billion people with disabilities worldwide

According to the United Nations, 1.5 billion people around the globe have some form of a disability. As generations age, more and more people join that population.

In 2016, the disposable income of people with disabilities in the U.S. was $465 billion in 2016, according to the Return on Disability Group, an economic research firm. But despite their purchasing power, fashion and design companies have largely ignored the needs of people living with disabilities.

Christina Mallon worked with fashion designers Claudia Po and Amy Yu Chen (L to R) to design a pair of inflatable pants to help Mallon get dressed more easily.
CNBC
Christina Mallon worked with fashion designers Claudia Po and Amy Yu Chen (L to R) to design a pair of inflatable pants to help Mallon get dressed more easily.

That could be about to change. CNBC Make It met with three young people living with disabilities: fashion model Jillian Mercado, bodybuilder and model Nick Santonastasso and inclusive designer Christina Mallon. All three are advocates for people with disabilities. Each said they have difficulty finding clothing, accessories and appliances that suit their body types and frequently create their own hacks and rely on help from family and friends to handle everyday tasks.

"I could not be disabled if there were small tweaks made to the environment around me," says Mallon. Mallon's arms became paralyzed – for reasons doctors have been unable to determine – when she was 26. She now serves as a board member for Open Style Lab, a research and development program run out of New York's Parsons School of Design. The lab pairs people with disabilities with designers, occupational therapists and engineers to create solutions.

Open Style Lab is one of a select few organizations working directly with people with disabilities. "What we're trying to do is to make something sexy and functional and take away the stigma of disability from clothing," says Grace Jun, executive director of the lab.

Over the past three years, companies including Nike, Target, Zappos and Tommy Hilfiger have begun designing apparel catered toward helping people with disabilities more easily get into clothing.

Fashion model Jillian Mercado at a shoot for Herring & Herring magazine.
CNBC
Fashion model Jillian Mercado at a shoot for Herring & Herring magazine.

"We all wear clothes and you would think that we would all have the opportunity to feel comfortable, Mercado says. "And not only comfortable but to feel great and have options and go, 'Wow. I look amazing.'"

For a look at their stories and how businesses are adapting to serve this significant population, watch the video above.

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