Accessibility in the beauty and fashion industry

Elin Williams

Online blogger Elin Williams discusses if beauty and fashion brands are doing enough to make their products accessible.

If brands aren’t making their products accessible, they could be missing out on a key demographic.

I’m Elin, a student with The Open University. I'm currently undertaking a degree in Arts & Humanities, specialising in English Language and Creative writing.

I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa when I was six years old.

At aged 12 I was registered blind. I note a lot of my experiences on my blog My Blurred World — from dealing with misconceptions to my experience with anxiety, confidence and loneliness.

Elin standing in a garden

I also focus on a few more lighthearted topics such as beauty and fashion. The accessibility of these industries is what I’d like to cast the spotlight on today.

When I first stepped into the world of fashion and beauty aged 14, I was often faced with a harsh realisation. I couldn’t appreciate these things in the same way as my friends and family.

My love of fashion is often questioned

As a vision impaired person, my love of fashion is often questioned. This could be how I buy clothes or how I pair an outfit together. I understand why people are curious, fashion is often considered to be a visual concept after all.

I’ve adopted a myriad of different techniques to make fashion and beauty accessible to me. I tend to organise my wardrobe so that I know exactly where to find what I’m looking for. I may also add braille or labels to my beauty and makeup products, as well as a couple of other ways which work for me.

Adopting these techniques means that I can appreciate beauty and fashion and take interest in it like my sighted peers. I appreciate clothes for their texture, fabric and how they make me feel.

Perhaps being vision impaired means I have a deeper relationship with these attributes. But there’s no denying the fact that a few challenges still arise when I want to access beauty and fashion.

Lack of descriptions

I buy most of my clothes online these days but I’ve stumbled upon a fair few obstacles whilst doing so. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to click off a website because it wasn’t accessible with my screen reader. Not to mention the amount of times I’ve had to disregard an item because there wasn’t enough detail in the description. Without a decent description I can't paint a picture of the garment in my mind.

And that’s not fair is it? As vision impaired people, we are often met with barriers when browsing websites. This can prevent us from being able to invest in fashion like everyone else. So here is where I’d like to introduce the following question.

Are mainstream retailers/brands doing enough to make fashion and beauty accessible?

Everyone’s opinion will differ on this but here are my personal thoughts.

Steps in the right direction

Some brands, beauty brands especially, are taking the necessary steps to becoming more accessible. Those who include braille on packaging are testament to this. It’s definitely a step in the right direction and sets a positive example which I hope more brands will follow.

Some fashion retailers are adding more detailed descriptions to their websites. However. many are yet to match the changes and improvements some beauty brands are making.

I’ve had many mishaps when shopping online. The lack of detail in the descriptions has meant items I've ordered have turned out to be something completely different to what I had envisaged.So back it goes. These kind of experiences mean that I lose confidence in brands and retailers.

Finding my size can be a treasure hunt

Shopping in store can also be tricky, especially if the space is cluttered and hard to navigate. I often go with someone who knows my style inside out because I can’t see the clothes for myself. Finding my size would also be like a treasure hunt!

What about introducing braille on clothing labels or something which could show different sizes? That way those with sight loss can find sizes for themselves. Not everyone reads braille of course so perhaps another system could be introduced. If we put in place something like this  it could open the door to a whole new way of shopping independently for vision impaired people.

Brands need to be accessible for everyone

There are over two million people living with sight loss in the UK, according to the RNIB. Not every one of those people will be interested in fashion or beauty but I can imagine that a fair few do, me included. If brands aren’t making their products accessible, they could be missing out on a key demographic. The lack of accessibility can also leave people feeling excluded.

Moving forward, brand should  listen more to the insights of those who live with sight loss. Perhaps they can then gain a better understanding of what changes they need to put in place to ensure better accessibility. Even the smallest of changes can make a difference.

By talking about it, we are creating a profile for inaccessibility. It’s something that needs to be raised more often in order for the right steps to be taken.

Long way to go

I think there’s still a long way to go before a truly accessible beauty and fashion industry is achieved. For now, as the right steps are being carried out in some cases. I hope it’s only a matter of time before more brands and retailers follow in their footsteps and make their brands more accessible for everyone.

We can create change by talking. As more voices are added to the conversation, I hope that one day the answer to my question will turn into a definite yes.

Check out Elin's blog

You can read more about Elin's thoughts on accessible fashion by visiting her blog, My Blurred World.

Read Elin's blog