Retailers Capitalize on Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Models gather backstage for the Runway of Dreams runway show, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, during Fashion Week in New York. The runway show featured models with disabilities wearing adaptive clothing for children and adults. Photo Courtesy of Kevin Hagen / AP

Americans with disabilities make up the third largest market segment behind African-Americans and Hispanics, in terms of disposable income. Retailers such as Tommy Hilfiger, Zappos, Niki, and Target are recognizing that and developing clothing lines and other products for consumers with disabilities.

Recognizing that people with disabilities have also the highest unemployment rate, and need to look their best when trying to get a job helps. Simple clothing alterations, such as magnetic closures that replace buttons, snaps and hooks on shirts and jackets, can benefit people with a range of disabilities, while also expanding their wardrobe with stylish options, designers say.

With a disposable income of $490 billion, catering to people with disabilities represents a gold mine of opportunities for businesses. Not only will it bring in more revenue to these retailers, but if done right, it can lead to greater opportunities for employment for this disadvantaged group.

For businesses that cater to people with disabilities, it can have a monumental impact on a brand’s reputation. More consumers, those without disabilities, will become aware of a brand that caters to people with disabilities leading to increased brand equity and goodwill. People like to patronize businesses that are seen making a difference in the community.

Online retailer, Zappos, started focusing on this segment back in 2017 as a result of a customer struggling to find footware for her autistic grandson who had trouble tying shoes with laces. Helping that one customer led an employee to see an opportunity that is out there in the marketplace. There is a need out there, and the market is large enough to capitalize on. That led Zappos to partner with Tommy Hilfiger and Nike to carry a line of clothing designed for consumers with disabilities.

It is the law to provide accommodations to people with disabilities in employment. So, it only makes good business sense to provide that same accommodation elsewhere, such as apparel. Serving people with disabilities is a trend that is not going to go away any time soon.

People with disabilities tend to spend more money on clothing, according to fashion designer Mindy Scheier, president and founder of Runway of Dreams, a foundation that advocates for greater inclusion in industry. “They’re spending more than the average person on clothing because nine times out of 10, they get their clothes tailored,” she said.

With this market being the third largest market segment behind African-Americans and Hispanics, this can become a standalone market for businesses who see the opportunities waiting for them to advertise in.


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