What started out as a hobby in her spare time has grown into a career for a young disabled woman.
Laura Wagner-Meyer (22) was born with a congenital neural tube defect, but that has not stopped her from living her life to the fullest. She's become a fashion designer with a strong focus on disabled women.
“My mother had always emphasized that “normal” was non-existent; instead I was simply living to my capabilities. I had my own version of “normal”. Living in such a way created a lifetime’s worth of confidence.”
Her mother is a medical doctor and she says that has helped her family figure out how to act around her.
“Her being a doctor has helped a lot. I think it helped with the family getting to understand my physical needs. That alleviated a lot of stress and worry about my physical wellbeing. It was really easy for them to treat me 'normally' knowing that I was perfectly fine and that I was more than happy to be living my life pain free.”
Fashion designing was not always part of her plan, in fact, she just stumbled on it. However, now that she's in it, she feels like the fashion industry does not cater for people with disabilities.
“I didn’t even know that fashion existed as a profession until my last few years of high school. I had my heart set on journalism until we started participating in the Da Gama fashion shows. It was the best experience and I immediately fell in love with the whole process.
“Unfortunately, the fashion industry doesn’t cater to our needs. I have yet to see a retailer in South Africa take such needs into account. To be kind and considerate. Especially to those who aren’t necessarily educated about disabilities.
"It can be a bit offensive at times, but society is generally misinformed. A smile and a greeting go a long way when faced with stares and whispers. The biggest misconception has to be that we are weak and rather sad about our situation. I don’t find my disability to be a weakness, nor a sad point. I feel empowered as a woman living with a disability. I truly do feel that my life is a blessing in every single way."
She saw a gap in the market and has decided to take advantage of it. She has designed clothes for disabled people to wear and feel sexy too.
“Firstly, I’d want them to feel comfortable. I’d want them to feel as if their physical needs have been met. I think that this will then lead to the feeling of incredible confidence. I believe that confidence is the first step in empowering someone, so in turn I'd like to be able to empower others through the use of clothing that meets their needs.”
Right now, her collection is available on Instagram @younique_Inclusivewear. These garments can be made to order.
"But I would love to work with clients and meet each need on a case by case basis for now.
“This collection was important for me as it was a way of showing society that people with disabilities aren’t necessarily chained down by the ideals that have been created for them. It was a means to promote disabled inclusivity and get people thinking beyond what they had seen in front of them. It was to show others that we too can be beautiful and comfortable. For people with disabilities, I wanted to create some excitement that someone is listening,” she says.
She mostly used duchess satin and 3D lace fabric.
“I always enjoyed that the shine that satin gives off immediately evokes a sense of luxury. I felt as if these two fabrics projected femininity and elegance.”
The young designer, based in the Western Cape, says she is inspired by Thebe Magugu.
“I love that he stays true to his origins and shows the international market that South Africa can also be considered when it comes to high-end contemporary fashion. I also admire Rihanna’s Fenty brand and for all of their efforts in promoting body inclusivity. It is quite exciting to see such efforts on an international platform.”