The New School News

This composite image comprises headshots of the program mentors. Clockwise from the top left they are Ben Barry, Sugandha Gupta, Sky Cubacub, Sinéad Burke, Andraéa LaVant, Rachel Iseman, and Aaron Rose Philip
This composite image comprises headshots of the program mentors. Clockwise from the top left they are Ben Barry, Sugandha Gupta, Sky Cubacub, Sinéad Burke, Andraéa LaVant, Rachel Iseman, and Aaron Rose Philip

Parsons School of Design and Tilting the Lens Announce Partnership to Support Disabled Students in Fashion

The School of Fashion at The New School’s Parsons School of Design and Tilting the Lens, an accessibility consultancy led by Sinéad Burke, today announced the launch of the Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Program, a four-year pilot initiative for Disabled fashion students and specifically those who are multiply-marginalized. The recruitment, scholarship and mentorship program aims to develop an accessible and equitable pipeline for Disabled students to enter the fashion industry by intentionally building pathways to the world-class education offered at Parsons School of Design, the top art and design school in the United States.

Through the program, Parsons and Tilting the Lens aim to reshape the foundation of fashion education, and welcome a new generation of fashion and design professionals who will bring a broader range of experiences, perspectives and practices to transform the industry. The scholarship will support three incoming students in the BFA Fashion Design program, MFA Fashion Design and Society program, and the AAS Fashion Design program for the duration of their studies, and go towards tuition and living and/or access costs.

“Disabled people have always been fashion designers, making and remaking clothing to support their body-minds and express their layered identities. However, the fashion industry has reduced their roles to that of participants, testers or co-designers at best, or co-opted their ideas without design credit and compensation at worst,” says Dr. Ben Barry, Dean of Fashion at Parsons School of Design and a Disabled fashion educator. “The Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Program exists to recognize the fashion creativity and wisdom that comes from the Disability experience and to create systemic pathways to cultivate Disabled people’s rightful place as creative directors and fashion designers in the industry.”

“Ableism is a core tenet of the fashion system” says Sinéad Burke, CEO of Tilting the Lens. “This discrimination of Disabled people presents itself in how we define beauty, how we architect retail spaces and ateliers, and how inaccessible the pathways to education and employment are, particularly for those from multiply-marginalized backgrounds. We know that there is great ambition to change, but many don’t know where to start, how to build momentum, and what the value metrics could be. With the Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Program, we are explicitly creating a framework that models new behaviors, practices and measures which the wider system can implement. This programme is about setting Disabled designers up for long-term success, and supporting the fashion industry to be more fair, equitable and agile.”

As an integral part of the partnership, Barry and Burke will serve as co-conveyors of the program’s advisory committee and mentors for the Disabled students. The program’s advisors and mentors are comprised of a group of Disabled creatives and professionals in the fashion, design and creative industries, including:

  • Aaron Rose Philip, fashion model and social justice advocate
  • Rachel Iseman, Head of Finance, Foundation CHANEL
  • Sky Cubacub, fashion designer and creator of Rebirth Garments
  • Sugandha Gupta, Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Social Justice at Parsons School of Design
  • Andraéa LaVant, founder and president of LaVant Consulting

The advisors and mentors will facilitate regular sessions to support and foster community among the students. Leaders and brands will be also invited to participate in bi-weekly community activities for supported students, opening the door to dialogues and collaborations centered around disability-conscious design, leadership, employment, and access. 

The development of the program has been guided by a U.S. national study of Disabled students’ experiences in fashion school and their recommendations to make fashion education inclusive of Disability experiences and cultures in order for Disabled fashion students to thrive. The research is being led by Barry. Findings will help to recruit, support, mentor and build community among Disabled fashion students at Parsons, as well as be shared with other fashion schools who want to meaningfully engage Disabled students and cultivate Disability in their curriculum and culture, with the intention of scaling the program at Parsons and in other schools.

The pilot program for the first student cohort includes generous scholarship funding from H&M whose support has made the H&M Fund for Disabled Fashion Students at Parsons possible. Program and research funding for the pilot activities are supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation. Partners who support the program will also be encouraged to identify paid internships and wider employment opportunities for Disabled students and recruit Parsons students to fill those roles. Simultaneously, Parsons and Tilting the Lens will help partners identify and reduce barriers in order to provide best practice access for the supported students and other Disabled employees. The micro-site and communications have been led by Disability-owned businesses, including Tilting the Lens, Unity Web Agency and LaVant Consulting.

For more information, please visit the Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Program website at

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