Jenny's fashion mission
As a fit and healthy 21-year-old with her whole life mapped out, one day Jenny McAllister suddenly experienced something which turned her whole life upside-down.
Eighteen years ago she suffered a massive brain stem hemorrhage and subsequent stroke, she was placed on life support and then went on to have locked in syndrome, meaning she couldn’t move or talk - her only way of communicating was through blinking her eyes.
“I spent a total of 18 months in hospital both in acute care and rehabilitation,” explains Jenny, who lives in Perth.
“I literally had to learn to do everything again from talking to walking, even being able to move my fingers and toes.
“It has been a very long and often tough journey of recovery, growth and self-discovery.”
Since the stroke, Jenny has faced many challenges, and admits there have been very tough times.
“I became someone who was confined to either a bed or a wheelchair with limited way of communicating and no idea what kind of recovery I would make or what quality of life I would have,” she recalls.
“I struggled a lot with accepting what had happened and grieving for the person I once was.
“I felt very lost and I now had to navigate through this new world of disability.
“I still looked like Jenny but I no longer was Jenny.
“Nothing prepares you for such a life changing event, especially at such a young age, and it took me a long time to find myself again albeit as a new Jenny.”
A large part of becoming the “new-Jenny” has had lot to do with fashion and styling and led Jenny to start the StyleAbility blog and social presence. Jenny says she created StyleAbility out of her own frustrations within the fashion and retail industry.
“I have always had a passion and love for all things fashion but after suffering my stroke I have been extremely frustrated at the lack of access to stylish, functional and on-trend fashion for myself and for other people living with a disability,” explains the 39-year-old.
“I realised that there must be other people who, like me, love fashion and also happen to have a disability but don’t have access to the clothes they want to wear or see anyone look like them in advertising campaigns, on social media or in fashion magazines.
“There are approximately one in five Australian’s living with a disability who just aren’t being catered for.
“I want to help change that - we should have more options to find stylish clothing, shops we can access and fashion icons to look up to.”
Jenny first decided she wanted to do something within the fashion industry a few years ago, but didn’t know what she could do given her disability. Last year she signed up to do MamaMia’s Lady Startup course and from there StyleAbility was born.
Her aim with StyleAbility is to create change by educating and collaborating with the fashion and retail industry on inclusion and accessibility for people with a disability within mainstream fashion.
She wants to educate and inspire innovative design that is both stylish and functional to provide products that are truly inclusive and accessible to all.
“I offer fashion and styling tips for people with a disability on my Instagram page and my blog,” she says.
“As someone with lived experience of disability I understand the challenges when looking for fashionable clothes that not only look great and are stylish but that are also functional, practical, high-quality and affordable.
“I want to share my knowledge and experience to help others feel amazing with fashion.”
When it comes to her own personal style, Jenny likes to keep it simple and classy.
“I’m a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl and I love a white sneaker,” she says.
“I like to wear good quality basics as my foundation and then I add in a trend piece or some statement jewellery to elevate the outfit.
“There’s nothing boring about good basics and if done right they can look super stylish!”
While it’s still early days for StyleAbility, Jenny says she is faced with some ongoing challenges which she is working through.
“Because of my physical disability it means I need help with taking photos and styling outfits and so that can be quite time consuming,” she explains.
“From the beginning it was always about adding value to other people’s lives with tips, tricks, knowledge, and of course, to be real and authentic.
“Putting yourself out there is hard and you have to be vulnerable and open to having a go.
“I’m also conscious of keeping the content relevant and interesting but with social media things are constantly changing so just trying to keep up can be a challenge.”
While there are challenges, Jenny says she is loving what she has achieved to-date and has enjoyed lots of positive feedback as well as the ability to make new connections, near and far.
“I have had lovely messages from people saying how great it is that I am doing this and that they really enjoy my content,” Jenny says.
“And I have had messages from people who don’t have a disability to say they really enjoy following me and my posts and that they haven’t seen content like this before and that what I’m doing is empowering.
“Fashion is so universal and we should embrace our differences.
“I’ve made so many lovely connections from people all over the world.
“Different women who are also LSU businesses, women with disabilities, women without disabilities, parents of children with a disability, amazing local designers and brands such as yourselves.
“The support has been amazing.”
Jenny hopes through education, the fashion industry will catch up and cater more to different needs.
“Unfortunately, I just don’t think it’s something the fashion industry thinks about or even considers, and I think there is a lack of knowledge and misconceptions that people with a disability aren’t interested in fashion, style or the clothes we wear,” Jenny says.
Through her blog she wants people with a disability to feel included and represented in fashion and she wants to empower people with a disability by helping them to feel confident and stylish in the clothes that they wear.
“My mission with StyleAbility is to educate and collaborate with the fashion and retail industry to deliver stylish and fashion forward clothes and accessories that define what the future of inclusive and accessible fashion looks like so that everyone has access to clothing that is stylish, functional and inclusive,” she says.
“My ultimate goal would be to see mainstream trendy fashion that has been universally designed so that everyone has access to wear it regardless of their disability. I would love to work with a major retailer or brand to collaborate on developing an inclusive product line within their core collection.”