Grace Stratton's 2019 NZ Fashion Week Opening Speech

Grace Stratton, Accessibility advocate and founder of fashion website All Is For All opened the 2019 NZ Fashion Week with a stunning address. NZ Fashion Week included models with access needs and had forum on diversity and inclusion. In declaring New Zealand Fashion Week 2019 officially open, Grace showed that people with access needs and disability are making a difference to our diverse and sustainable fashion industry.

Grace Stratton on stage with microphone in her hand

Here is Grace’s speech:

Tēnā koutou katoa and Welcome my name is Grace Stratton, thank you very much Dame Pieter, New Zealand fashion week and sponsors for the honour of opening this occasion. People who have access needs, or disabilities, navigate a world whose overwhelming voice communicates that their differences are not valued nor considered. This occurs at all touch points; from education, to the workforce, in leadership, commercial and social settings.

Alongside Angela Bevan and communications agency SweeneyVesty I founded All is for All our goal is to directly challenge and ultimately silence this voice, by leveraging the cultural relevance of fashion – into transformative action – so our fashion industry, and society, can be accessible. An accessible, inclusive and diverse society, is one which values and celebrates difference; it is a space where physical and neurological diversity, gender equality and cultural representation are the norm.  

We decided to begin this movement from within fashion, because fashion informs the world; it has the power to disrupt systems of thought arguably more so than any other industry.  New Zealand fashion week’s focus on diversity this year is a bold step in ensuring, we design this space and eventually the New Zealand fashion retail experience entirely, for the modern fashion consumer, who now more than ever purchases – with equality and ethics at front of mind.

Over the last few weeks, a lot of people have said to me how great it is, that New Zealand Fashion is finally accepting of people with access needs – I do not believe there is a lack of desire, or an intentional will to build barriers, our incredible models with access needs were cast, because they are damn good. I believe that over decades we have convinced ourselves, that we must do things a certain way – and this has prevented us from innovating, it is up to each of us to challenge the flawed narratives, which prevent inclusion in our industry and in the world. Often, once you break down a barrier to entry, people will wonder why it was there in the first place.  

People with access needs do not need your charity, nor pity.  We do not need to be able-bodied in order to succeed, and you don’t have to call us “inspirational” for doing the bare minimum of living.

What we do need, is the time and space to explore who we are.  People with access needs deserve to feel agency over every part of ourselves; from our choices, to our clothing, sexuality and ambitions - we deserve to feel like anything is possible and to have an active role as a global citizen. As a mechanism for self-expression, the fashion industry must make space to support and enable this.

I would like to acknowledge the impeccable work of the New Zealand Fashion Week team and the designers who have worked with All is for All models, to understand and implement accessibility as much as possible. This is the first step in a journey, toward a Fashion Week like no other, I cannot wait to learn more and improve alongside this team. I would also like to make special mention of Marissa Findlay, Murray Bevan and the team at Showroom 22, as well as Greg Fahey, Rochelle Johnson and Adam Bryce who have respectively championed and supported All is for All, accessibility and our models, since we launched five months ago. I speak for Angela and myself, when I say that championing this cause and our young people is the greatest privilege.  I declare Fashion Week 2019 Open".

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