The Woman Putting Disability On The Catwalk, And The Cover Of Vogue

Samanta Bullock believes fashion can be a tool for equality.

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A Paralympian who became paralyzed in a shotgun accident, Samanta Bullock has never let a wheelchair get in the way of her thirst for high fashion.

A model herself, when Bullock became frustrated by the lack of fashionable accessible clothing, she decided to do something about it. Originally from Brazil but now a Londerner, Bullock created Samanta Bullock (SB) Shop as a marketplace with clothes that “anyone can wear.”

This past summer, Bullock started the SB Challenge, which encourages disabled and other underrepresented people in fashion to create magazine covers with themselves on it to show that everyone deserves a place in the fashion world. 

Folks talked to Bullock about how caused her to create the SB Challenge, what her experience as a disabled person in the fashion industry has been like, and how these experiences led her to create the SB shop. 

What is the SB Challenge? What inspired the idea?

The SB Challenge was created as a new version of the Vogue challenge. We ask that people that feel like they are not represented in fashion magazines to put themselves on [the cover of] any magazine that they would like to be portrayed in. We focus more on disability because that is something that appeals to the shop, but always as we talk about the SB shop, we say, like needs, inclusive is universal. 

So, you take your picture, do your cover, and choose the magazine that you want to be on. When you tag us, we repost the picture on our Instagram. We want to be doing an open letter for all the magazines and show them what we want is more representation. 

Samanta Bullock. Photo: Michael Arkin

As a member of the disabled community, how do you see the fashion industry failing people with disabilities?

I think the fashion industry is getting it wrong because they’re not considering that disabled people also have economic power. I also think they are seeing a person with a disability as someone who is all day in bed and that does not wear something fashionable.  The fact that they are not considering representation for a variety of people has consequences for the new generations. We need to be represented. It is a big thing for people with disabilities because we never see someone like us.

I’m interested in hearing about how this challenge intersects with the mission of your online fashion store and fashion line. Could you tell me more about that?

The SB Shop is a shop that focuses on the whole. We say we’re sustainable and sustainable for us is something that works for all. We are getting the right clothes to empower people to get out. We want our models to represent people’s reality. There’s a good need to empower people. We are creating clothes that will impact you and can feel like themselves in. 

After you began using a wheelchair, what barriers did you face when trying to find clothing that worked for you?

I want to feel like something suits my body and that is made for me. Sometimes you get some jeans that are too low or some that are very hard to wear, or they’re not comfortable. We need to have the functionality in clothes but also comfort and beauty. You can have a lot of challenging things sometimes inside of a physical shop, like with changing rooms. 

Are there any experiences that you had in particular that led you to create the SB Shop and this challenge?

When I was 14-years-old, I became paraplegic, and I wanted to be a model. I couldn’t see someone in a wheelchair doing anything in fashion, so I was very frustrated. One of the points of the SB Shop is that we need to be seen in order to exist to other people. Even if it just looks like “Oh, it’s only magazines or social media,” it’s bigger than that. 

A sample Bazaar cover from the SB Challenge.

What got you into fashion? 

My mom also modeled a little bit. I think that this is something that came from my family, and I realize it made sense for me. I was eight years old.

Can you tell us a bit about what put you in a wheelchair, and what the aftermath was like? What were the biggest challenges? 

I had a gunshot accident when I was 14 years old. I was playing with my dad’s gun. After my accident, I just moved on. This changed the life of my mom, my dad, my brother, of my teachers and of my colleagues at school. I was so lucky that everyone was very supportive of me, and always will. never felt that I was left, out or I wasn’t included. I was included in every single event, like volleyball at school. I would play with my team. I knew that they would lose if they have me but they always put me in.

Before you created the SB Shop, you were a model. What barriers did you face when trying to succeed in the modeling industry?

It was hard because the modeling industry is afraid of change. They are afraid to change, but they are also afraid of the unknown. When you do a photo shoot, there is a lot of complexity because we are talking about the need to be accessible with people who don’t have contact with disabled people. [Many people] are never going to know how to act to be more inclusive. 

Another sample cover from the SB Challenge.

What is the hardest part of being in the fashion industry as a disabled person?

I think it is to be ignored. The other things, it is all solvable. When you go to a casting, you can manage and someone can help you.

How did this lead you to create SB Shop?

The SB Shop is from the necessity of the industry to be more inclusive. Not only from the point of view of the clothes or for the brands to be doing something to make clothes more comfortable or more beautiful but also for the fact that marketing needs to be more inclusive. Since I was a kid, I always believed in the quote “be that change that you want to see in the world.” I just started to talk to brands about what they could do to meet each person’s needs and abilities. 

Why do you think better inclusion in fashion will help the disability community?

If people see you [in fashion], they are going to understand your needs. This is going to help the disability community because we create solutions for more accessible and more comfortable clothes. That’s going to empower you to go out once you feel that you are beautiful and fashionable.

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