Fashion retailer Chi Chi London has issued an apology after its flawed brand ambassador called it tokenism after holding an inaccessible event. The incident has led to renewed calls for brands to “improve their own skills on disability” and do better serving the disabled community that goes beyond simply featuring people with disabilities in an advertisement.
Model and content creator Lucy Dawson took to social media to share how Chi Chi London hired her for a campaign called ‘Celebrate You,’ meant to champion diversity. But then, he said, Chi Chi excluded him from brand activation because the place was inaccessible.
“One of the things I always talk about is the inaccessibility of the shows, and at that point I felt really intimidated. It was as if what I just did was great performance, performance activism, just clicking for likes, rather than doing anything for the disabled community,” he said.
The show is a pop-up store on Oxford Street, London, which has two floors with partial access and a ramp. Chi Chi said that the access would be “enough” but later realized that it was not suitable.
“My heart feels bad, it hurts, because you just put me in this campaign about inclusion and I have kicked it out. [the campaign] to my mostly disabled and chronically ill followers, and I recommend you as a brand,” said Dawson.
Chi Chi London responded and issued an apology to the disabled community for causing any disturbance, claiming that it was a “genuine oversight and in no way intended to cause offence.”
It said: “We need to do better moving forward and will learn from this. We will never want to exclude our valued customers or ambassadors from the events we host.”
Following Dawson’s social media posts, outraged members of the disabled community commented on Chi Chi’s social pages – only for the brand to limit comments to posts.
Chi Chi’s apology also extended to his decision to limit comments. It said: “We failed to address the response we received from the disabled community in a caring manner, and we sincerely apologize for this.”
Disability and inclusion marketing agency Purple Goat is at the forefront of educating brands on how to work with talent with disabilities beyond simply ‘featuring people with disabilities’ in advertising.
Dom Hyans, chief strategy officer at Purple Goat, told The Drum: “To be truly inclusive, we are looking for brands to improve their own skills on disability, and the possible considerations they might have on a particular campaign, whether it be minor adaptations to, adjustments reasonable in terms of workflow or making sure (as in this case) you think holistically about all aspects of the campaign and making sure everyone, people with disabilities or non-disabled people, is equally included and valued.”
Hyans said he hopes Dawson’s story helps Chi Chi and other brands to “reflect on what they’re doing to ensure they’re inclusive, and bring in those with hands-on experience to help ensure that campaigns are as inclusive and successful as possible.”
The impact of the pandemic and the shift to virtual and hybrid events makes it easier for brands to host accessible activations. But exiting Covid with a return to face-to-face events should put event accessibility back on the agenda. In September, Sebastian Boppert, head of European communications at event management and ticketing website Eventbrite, told The Drum: “Back from Covid, we have the opportunity here to rebuild a more inclusive events industry that allows everyone to enjoy the thrill of live events. . . But ending social isolation means ending it for everyone, and we must work together to do so.”