Stephanie Thomas has dedicated her life to creating fashionable and inclusive designs, keeping people with disabilities’ needs in mind and at the core of her business practice.
Earlier in Q4 of 2019, premier industry resource Business of Fashion (BoF) recognized the Academy of Art University’s School of Fashion alumna as one of the Top 500 movers and shakers in the world of fashion.
Getting in the Business of Fashion
BoF is a website run by a network of fashion-savvy writers alongside industry insiders from all over the world. Its mission is to provide resource for fashion business intelligence set to introduce innovations, trigger disruptions, and present passionate creations to further the growth and development of the fashion world.
Their coveted BoF 500 list is considered to be a “definitive professional index” of industry players. To be in the list, one must first be nominated by members of the BoF community. With extensive research and analysis of data gathered, the BoF editors will personally select those they deem worthy of the recognition.
Stephanie Thomas made it in the list because of her commitment to an otherwise largely ignored market niche in the fashion industry: people with disabilities.
Walking Tall and Proud to the Top 500
Stephanie Thomas didn’t have toes and her right thumb when she was born. Because of this non-severe disability, as they call it, doctors concluded that she will never be able to independently walk or dance. She had other plans than simply following this prediction, however.
Like any teen, she dreamed of going to college—and she did. But before that, she also wanted to dance, so she did. Two years before entering college, Stephanie performed as a Chicago Bulls cheerleader. She even went on to become their squad captain later on.
She also joined in the Miss Kentucky pageant, hoping to win a slot to the prestigious Miss America contest. It was here that she was struck with the inspiration to work on something that would specifically cater to persons with disability.
Fashion as a Functional Need
In the course of the pageant, the director asked Stephanie why her left cuff would always be left unbuttoned. Her simple explanation that it’s because she doesn’t have a right thumb sparked her interest and creativity to expand fashion to include function for those who may have certain physical limitations.
At first, founding a full-blown business was not really in the official plans. She was working more on drumming up support and spreading the advocacy of having fashion designers create designs for people with disabilities. In 2003, she began reaching out to top designers, delivering pith after pitch in regards to this.
A year into her efforts, however, she was still getting no significant interest from anyone. Determined, she decided to take matters in other own hand and provide answers herself to what she deemed to be the most important and foremost considerations in fashion: is it accessible, fashionable, and smart?
From there, her “disability fashion lifestyle hub”, Cur8able, came to life. Here, she offers advice for those with specific fashion needs because of their physical disabilities, putting together a viable style for those concerned, and even providing discount lists to make it more affordable and accessible to those who need it.
Finding the Cure at the Academy
Founding a fashion business is no walk in the park as it is, but even more so if you don’t have any background for it at all. In previous interviews, Stephanie recounted how she felt like she was “floundering like a fish that accidentally jumped out of its bowl.” It was an all-new, alien territory for her, and she simply did not know what to do with what she wanted to do.
When she came to the Academy’s School of Fashion—an industry presence to be reckoned with in its own right, having been recently named by Fashionista as one of the top 25 fashion schools worldwide—she quickly realized that she had access to everything she would need to bring her ideas to life.
“I finally got the tools—and actually the idea of taking my work and describing myself as a ‘stylist’—that’s all Academy of Art.”
It was at the Academy that she was able to touch on all the learning points she identified as crucial and necessary for her advocacy, from fashion to fashion journalism to the industry profile in general.
Style Mission Accomplished
Her mission has always been not only to sell a design concept, but more importantly, to “respectfully tell the story” behind it—in this case, disabilities. And so even if Cur8able does not necessarily hit a million followers. To her, “If just one person can come to my site and have their life changed or get insight or build value, then I don’t care if it never grows. I’ve done my job.”
In the Cur8able website, she says:
Today we live in a world where pets have more fashionable clothing options designed for their bodies than PEOPLE with disabilities. Also, here in the states, our retail stores have wheelchair-accessible ramps and dressing rooms with no clothing in the stores designed for wheelchair users with seated body types. It’s time for a change, and my Disability Fashion Styling System™ bridges the gap between where the fashion industry is and where it must inevitably go to be more inclusive.
Ultimately, though, her mission would have only been fully accomplished “when fashion for the disabled is so commonplace that designers automatically think of disability when they think of designing shoes and clothing.”
Until such day this happens, and when sites like Cur8able are no longer required, however, she will carry on with her non-severe disability and all, proving to anyone that comes along her path, that “impossible” is redefinable.
Apart from enjoying her slot in the BoF 500 for 2019, Stephanie Thomas is also looking forward to the release of her new textbook, Fitting In: The Social Implications of Fashion Dressing with Disabilities, in January 2020.
Hero image from Stephanie Thomas on Twitter