Disabled models walked the runaway at Tokyo Fashion Week during the showcase of Takafumi Tsuruta's label Tenbo. The Japanese designer challenged all accepted perceptions of beauty, with an easy-to-wear collection unveiled on the catwalk by models in wheelchairs, a blind lady and female amputees.
Tsuruta is the latest designer to celebrate disability at a major fashion week, after an actress with Down's Syndrome and a male amputee model graced runways this year in New York and Milan. His 'Dream'-themed autumn/winter collection included details such as magnetic buttons and reversible jumpers, aiming to reach a wider audience than just typical high-fashion items. "We are introducing something called 'people's design'. The clothes are aimed at everyone in the world. I think it's fashion's responsibility to have trendy and easy-to-wear clothing," said Tsuruta.
Blind Paralympic gold medal swimmer Rina Akiyama opened the show wearing a dotted trapeze dress inspired by Braille. She said, "It was very rare for such a fashion event to take place in Japan. I think there are a considerable number of disabled people who don't leave their homes. It would be great if chances like today increase."
Two women with prosthetic legs, including 31-year-old Sayaka Murakami, modeled wearing a stylish white shirt patterned with paper cranes. Murakami prepares to compete in both sprint and long jump at the Rio Paralympic Games next year, and is hopeful the fashion industry, like the sporting world, will continue to champion inclusion. She said, "In the future, people with disabilities won't have to give up their dreams of modelling and will be able to work hard to achieve them."
In the show's moving finale, 24-year old Ami Sano, who was born with a rare disorder that left her without limbs except a left foot, appeared in her wheelchair, donning a white wedding dress. "I really didn't dream that I would end up modelling at fashion week. Simple clothing for us is great. I think people in general will be thankful for this type of design, and there are various ways of arranging the pieces," Sano said.
Often criticized for their narrow choice of models, global fashion weeks have lately taken small but significant steps towards greater diversity.