An Edmonton business is aiming to change the fashion world one photo shoot at a time, as the only talent agency in the country to exclusively represent people who are disabled or neurodiverse.
"There is just nothing we could find in Canada for agencies that specialize in representing disabled, neurodiverse talent," Katie MacMillan, founder and owner of Kello Inclusive, told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.
"It didn't take us very long to think that the world needed one of these."
MacMillan created the agency because she saw what her 12-year-old daughter Kelty Allanach went through as a model with a disability.
She said she wanted the focus to be on the models and not their disability.
Allanach has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair. When she showed interest in modelling, MacMillan signed her with a talent agency based out of Calgary.
But MacMillan quickly realized that companies, although eager to include diversity, weren't prepared to provided the necessary supports.
For example, three of the four fashion shows they attended didn't have ramps to get up to the runway, MacMillan said.
"Or they chose a dress for her that got caught in her wheels," she added.
Diversity gets left behind
MacMillan was inspired to create Kello Inclusive after a conversation with Tilly Nelson, a photographer based in Vancouver and London who specializes in working with children, including those with disabilities.
Nelson asked what Allanach would need at a photo shoot — and that was the first time MacMillan had encountered someone who seemed aware of what to ask to make the process smoother, she said.
Nelson had been trying to find a diverse range of talent and models. Having worked with agencies that exclusively worked with disabled and neurodiverse talent in the U.K., she was surprised that agencies like that didn't exist in Canada.
"If I have to work that hard because I'm so passionate about inclusivity, then it's no wonder that there's a lack of diversity, lack of representation in the media," Nelson said.
"Everyone is having to really search for these amazing disabled people or neurodiverse people."
Nelson told all of this to MacMillan, who saw the opportunity to fill the void in Canadian fashion industry.
It's clear that the world is ready for this type of diversity to be included, MacMillan said.
"We've come a long way with ethnic diversity, with body diversity. Disability sort of gets left behind," MacMillan said.
Since its inception two months ago, Kello Inclusive has been growing its roster of models and working with brands across Canada including Vessi, Emmy Deveaux, Explore Edmonton, The Skinny and more.
The agency also worked at Kids Fashion Week in Toronto and Vancouver.
Take those borders away
Former makeup artist Bean Gill signed up with Kello Inclusive almost immediately.
She has always loved the modelling industry but in 2012 she was paralyzed from the waist down by a disorder called transverse myelitis.
After her paralysis, she said she found a new sense of confidence and signed up for Western Canada Fashion Week, but she felt limited.
"Being East Indian and having that disability, I have never seen anybody that looks like me modelling anything other than assistive devices," she said.
Gill added that Kello's inclusive the talent agency is much needed in Canada.
"I actually didn't even know that this was missing."