Lack of diversity at Toronto Fashion week a concern

Rachel Romu, the only disabled model at Toronto Fashion Week, is pushing for more diversity on runways

As one of the most diverse cities in the world, one may assume Toronto’s Fashion Week would have a diverse runway. However, Rachel Romu was the only disabled model at the event this year. The Toronto Observer sat down with Romu after she walked in designer Hayley Elsaesser’s show.

Model Rachel Romu walking in Hayley Elsaesser’s show for Toronto Fashion Week. (George Pimentel)

“I just hope differently abled models are not like a box to tick off in terms of diversity, but are hired because they’re really good at what they do,” Romu said. “People will be willing to accommodate automatically and hire them because they’re skilled.”

In 2016, Romu, who is from Thunder Bay, was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder. She had a spinal tumour and has endured through two spinal surgeries. Romu left school and abandoned her dream of competing in the Olympics. She loved track and field.

Romu now uses a mobility aid daily (Mursal Rahman )

After her diagnosis, Romu, 24, started modelling as a way of coping with the changes in her body. She had been approached to do modelling before her physical complications, but was then concentrating on sports and school. After her diagnosis, however, she said modelling helped boost her confidence and helped her learn to love her body. Her goal as a model is to make disability so common on the runway that people don’t treat it as a spectacle and simply accept the fact some people are disabled.

According to The Fashion Spot, 32 per cent of models in New York Fashion Week were of colour, making it the most racially diverse compared to fashion weeks in London, Paris, and Milan. 

More needs to be done to bring different types of diversity on the runways, not just in Toronto but in all the fashion weeks around the world, according to Fatima Syed, editorial coordinator of Real Style Network.

“In terms of diversity, yes designers play a role, modelling agencies definitely play a role as well, updating the roster of models, searching for more unique faces,” Syed said. 

Syed, who attended most of the shows in Toronto in early September, said the runways did feature some racial diversity, but did not showcase a unique representation of every consumer.

“If fashion doesn’t represent a certain demographic, whether it’s racial, body size, ability, androgynous, transgender,  then that’s a community that is excluded from fashion,” Syed said.  

Fashion is about changing perspectives, self expressing and self confidence through art, she added.

“It’s about community, it’s about bringing people together to see something beautiful so if the consumer feels like it’s not relatable,” she said. “The consumer might lose interest in the product, they might not want to purchase, they might feel excluded and spend their money elsewhere.”