Adaptive Fashion and Marketing Ethics

Meghan Barrasso

Adaptive fashion is on the rise and by 2026, it’s expected to be valued at $400 billion. This industry is exploding in current fashion and since the need for these types of products are so high, so is the need to market them.

Adaptive fashion is clothing, accessories or footwear specially designed around the needs and abilities of people with varying degrees of disabilities. Disabled people are one of the largest minority groups in the world, yet in fashion, they are extremely underrepresented. This may be because of what we are used to seeing in the media – which is often a small sized model who is usually white. However, with current trends changing and diversity “selling” more and more in the media, brands are learning to shift their marketing strategies and join this inclusive revolution in fashion.

Inclusivity gives the opportunity for marginalized groups to have an opportunity to be represented. This inclusive revolution in fashion marketing can be seen in the works of Victoria’s Secret and their new line of diverse Angels, Tommy Hilfiger’s inclusive fashion line created in 2016, and Nike’s newer inclusive sneakers. 

Now that inclusive fashion is growing, what happens when a brand smaller than Victoria’s Secret, Tommy Hilfiger and Nike can’t market their inclusive products?

This is exactly what happened with inclusive clothing brand, Mighty Well – as well as many smaller businesses like them.

Mighty Well’s sweatshirt in question.

In early 2021, Mighty Well tried placing an ad on Facebook for a gray hooded sweatshirt with the text “I am immunocompromised – please give me space”. Immediately, Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that accepts or denies the advertisement requests, denied Mighty Well’s ad. Facebook’s reasoning was because the ad went against their policy of advertising “medical and healthcare products and services including medical devices”. Unfortunately, Facebook’s AI system missed the mark on what Mighty Well was actually advertising, which was an inclusive sweatshirt. 

Another company called Yarrow, ran into the same issues as Mighty Well with Facebook advertising. Yarrow was trying to advertise pants and used an inclusive model who uses a wheelchair in their ad. Facebook’s AI denied the ad because of the wheelchair, not because of the actual product. 

Yarrow’s denied advertisement

After both Mighty Well and Yarrow resubmitted their advertisement requests, Facebook eventually accepted the ad and apologized for their AI system not catching the product being advertised and focusing on the medical device instead.

Although both companies were able to advertise their products, the problem in these two cases is the lengths that it took to get the advertisement out there. Some may argue that this was not a human error, but an AI error – however, humans make the codes for Facebook’s AI advertisements. Smaller companies should have the same ease and access that larger companies, like Nike and Tommy Hilfiger, have when it comes to marketing these inclusive products. 

Mighty Well, Yarrow, and other smaller inclusive fashion companies may start to stray away from using Facebook advertising if problems like this continue. All inclusive fashion companies, big and small, should have the ease of marketing just like regular fashion brands so underrepresented groups can finally feel represented in fashion.