Podcast: Fashion and being the change you want to see

The Disability Download

This month we catch up with disabled model and entrepreneur Caprice Kwai. She shares her journey as a disabled model, gives advice to anyone who might want to get into the industry and talks about her new jewellery brand, By Caprice Kwai.


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Caprice Kwai: There was nothing that I could look at on social media or just in the world and think oh my god, I want to...you know, I feel more confident in myself now. So in this day and age there’s so much more people, like you said, on social media, pushing you know ‘love yourself, this is my disability and I’m proud of me ‘and you know, showing mobility aids...

Erin O’Reilly: Hello and welcome to The Disability Download, brought to you by pan disability charity Leonard Cheshire. I’m Erin O’Reilly and on this podcast, we respond to current topics, share stories and open up conversations about disability.

Hi everyone and welcome back! So, in more recent years we’ve started seeing the fashion and beauty industry paying a little more attention to diversity and inclusion – although I think we can all agree there’s still a long way to go.

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But you know in positive things, we’ve seen more adaptive clothing options, braille make up packaging and more disabled models in ad campaigns. But what about behind the scenes?

On this episode I have a really great chat with disabled model and entrepreneur Caprice Kwai. And we talk all about her experiences within the industry and she also shares her advice on anyone out there who might be looking to start up their own business. So let’s go over to Caprice!

Erin: Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast Caprice. We're really excited to have you here. I want to talk a little bit obviously about your journey in terms of your modeling career. So you've been with Zebedee Talent for how long now?

Caprice: Since 2019

Erin: 2019

Caprice: Yeah

Erin: And they’re, so they’re an inclusive talent agency?

Caprice: Agency, yeah.

Erin: Yeah, so how did that kind of come about? What was your journey in terms of how you came to work with them.

Caprice: Yeah well firstly, thank you for having me on. And with Zebedee, so I actually found them on Instagram. But I'll do a little bit of a back story. I was at Fashion College and I was experiencing discrimination because of my disability. So, I made the decision to leave and during that period of me not attending, I actually came across Zebedee on Instagram.

Just by chance. I think someone tagged them in a post as their agent. So I was like ooh who is this agency you know? And they were describing what they do, you know they're for disabled people, trying to, you know, get representation out there in the fashion industry. Uhm, so I asked my mum and I said oh God, should I apply? She said, go for it so I did and yeah the rest is kind of history, yeah!

Erin: Amazing! Sorry to hear you know obviously that you'd experienced discrimination at your college. I mean, if you’re comfortable talking about that, how did they kind of, obviously you ended up leaving, so I'm guessing they didn't really deal with it in a good way at all?

Caprice: Yeah, I'm actually going through the same thing now at university. [laughs]

Erin: No way!

Caprice: Yeah, so I've put in about five formal complaints. So yeah, it's been crazy, but it's the same, the same thing that I'm going through, so they've failed to put reasonable adjustments in place for me as a disabled person, completely disregarding the Equality Act. Uhm, yeah, just yeah. It's just been crazy.

Erin: Yeah, and you'd think like you know 2022, you shouldn't have to be having to do this

Caprice: Exactly

Erin: Especially at a university as well. It's kind of like...

Caprice: Exactly, it's crazy, so crazy honestly!

Erin: Yeah. Really sorry to hear that. And they're gonna miss out on, you know, really good students and talent as well, like you're obviously now at a modeling agency and...

Caprice: Yeah, yeah, I know. Yeah, it's crazy and it's just so unfortunate because, uh it’s just unfortunate because I can only imagine how much other disabled people have gone through this at college, at university, and yeah, yeah.

Erin: Yeah, I think I read an article like it might been last year, but it was about kind of the number of disabled students that were kind of dropping out of university because of situations like this and it feels like you know, people are coming up against this and in an environment that should be inclusive by nature as well.

Caprice: Yeah, there's policies that have now been put in place because of my complaints, which is great, and I just hope it helps more disabled people that attend the university, but it's just yeah, it's 2022. It's just, it's unacceptable.

Erin: You shouldn't have to be having to do that, should you?

Caprice: Exactly, yeah.

Erin: But kind of going back to, you know the modeling. So how's your experience been like you know, working with Zebedee and working within the fashion industry? How's it been?

Caprice: It's actually been really positive. When I first started, my confidence was non-existent, and now that I've got more jobs, I've met more people, it's been great. One thing that I always mention is the accessibility, in regard to you know accessible studios, not having access to a lift. So things like that have been a big problem within my experience of being in the industry. Yeah, and yeah I'd love to see more disabled people on set, in jobs, being involved and not just being like the token disabled model.

Erin: Yeah, so are you finding like when you go on shoots like is it like disabled photographers or disabled make up artists. Do you find like, it's, uh, across the sector in that way? Or is it more like there is now focus obviously on models, people in front of the camera, but what about the creators behind the scenes?

Caprice: Behind the curtain. Exactly. I couldn't agree with you more. But no, I don't think I've ever worked with a disabled makeup artist. I mean, obviously disabilities are invisible as well. Actually no, going back, on the job last month I think it was like the 5th of March, it was a wedding show and there were people behind the scenes that were helping me get dressed backstage.

One lady I completely forgot her name now, but she had, she has EDS. So that was the first time actually that I've worked with someone that has actually revealed they have you know, this disability. So that was actually really amazing. But apart from that, it's very rare.

Erin: Yeah, and do you think that is because maybe people might initially, you know, look at the industry and historically, obviously it's not diverse in a whole range of different ways, do you think people might have been discouraged, you know other disabled people might be discouraged from kind of getting into that industry, 'cause they might feel like it isn't inclusive enough, and there might be kind of that discrimination going on there?

Caprice: Oh, absolutely yeah. I completely agree with everything you just said. I don't know what to add. You said it perfectly. [laughs] Yeah, I completely agree.

Erin: 'cause obviously you work with other like disabled models as well. So, you know, I don't know how long, do you know how long Zebedee’s been up and running for?

Caprice: I think about since 2017 or 2018.

Erin: Yeah, so it's still kind of fairly new in a way. But I mean I've been, you know on social media, I think you are seeing more and more people being associated with them as well, so they're definitely really growing there.

Caprice: Yeah they definitely are.

Erin: But when you’ve kind of spoken to other, you know models and stuff, do you feel like people have had similar experiences and that they also have the accessibility experiences that you've talked about as well?

Caprice: Oh, definitely yeah. You know, some models won't even be able to access the studio because it's not wheelchair friendly. There's been an instance where a shoot had to be moved downstairs because there was no lift access, and luckily I can take stairs, but it's very difficult for me, and obviously I'd rather have a lift, I need a lift, so yeah, there's been instances like that, it's just devastating to see because you know...

Erin: Especially when they know that they've got a disabled model coming on set...

Caprice: Exactly, yeah. Yeah, very confused. Every time that happens. Like how does this add up? You know you've booked at disabled model but you can't, you know, do the basic access needs that the person requires. It’s ridiculous.

Erin: I think it also just highlights like how many buildings are still inaccessible as well.

Caprice: Yeah.

Erin: Like I was trying to book like a Christmas meal for colleagues recently and trying to find a pub in London that had wheelchair access but also an accessible toilet! It was like...

Caprice: Oh my God.

Erin: It was so hard, like how can it be?

Caprice: I can imagine. Yeah God, no it’s so true.

Erin: Still such a problem, but we are starting to see you know more and more brands you know, taking diversity and inclusion seriously, and diversifying quite a lot, although obviously, not as much as it should be, and I think maybe some brands it doesn't feel totally authentic. Do you feel like it has improved kind of even in the time that you've been in the industry? Do you think you've seen an improvement in that?

Caprice: I have massively in terms of Zebedee, everyday I'm seeing, you know, a disabled model in this advert, on this, on in this campaign. So in terms of that, definitely. But what you mentioned earlier, I'd love to touch on just having the representation in front of the camera, but also behind, uhm, even you know adaptive fashion.

I would love to see more designers thinking with accessibility in mind. So I feel like the industry as a whole has a lot to improve on, not just you know, having a disabled model in front of the camera and you know showing all we're inclusive when really you're not behind the scenes or your clothes aren’t adaptive, you know?

Erin: Yeah, definitely. Or even down to like the websites just being accessible.

Caprice: Exactly, yeah.

Erin: Yeah, or like their adverts, their social media adverts like being fully accessible. I think yeah, you're right, it's fine to have a model, but if your brands not completely inclusive... I mean, so is there anyone that you feel like does do it well? Or any good examples that you've seen?

I know obviously there are disabled people kind of doing that with their own brands. But yeah that's kind of like, you know, High Street brands, is there anyone that stands out to you as kind of doing it well or...

Caprice: Uhm, I’ve actually done a report for university on this. Uh, we've got like Tommy Hilfiger, which is quite...it's not really affordable for you know, high Street, you know for an every day person. You've got Nike, with there...what are the trainers called Nike Flighties trainers, I think they’re the first adaptive trainers? Again, have you heard of those trainers?

Erin: No I haven’t actually but I shall look them up after this!

Caprice: [laughs] Yeah, yes, I think they’re the first adaptive trainers, uhm who else? I mean, I'm not sure if any High Street Brands are doing it. I've seen a lot of small businesses on Instagram, you know, but there's not many, many that you can mention just off the top of your head, which is really frustrating. And that definitely needs to change so, yeah.

Erin: And is there anything else you kind of like to really see change as well in the immediate future in terms of stuff like that?

Caprice: Just everything I just mentioned. I know, especially with me, I would love to expand my own business into doing more accessories that are adaptive so you know that caters to the needs of various types of different disabilities and conditions. And I think that's mainly what I'd love to see in the fashion industry. You know, accessibility, clothing, adaptive fashion, that is fashionable as well [laughs]. Because we deserve to you know, have fashionable clothes and...so yeah, definitely.

Erin: Yeah, and affordable like you say 'cause it's not a secret that disability can come with you, know additional expenses, and it's not fair then, that you know things like clothing are also not in line with like High Street prices, it should be, you know, equal in that sense as well.

Caprice: Exactly.

Erin: It shouldn't have to be that you have to go out of your way and pay like you know hundreds of pounds or something that they probably could quite easily do on the High Street!

Caprice: [laughs] It’s so true! Yeah!

Erin: Obviously you just mentioned your own kind of business and brand, so you've started designing your own jewellery, haven't you?

Caprice: Yeah, I have yeah.

Erin: Yeah, how's that all going? What kind of led you to do that? Was that kind of you interest in fashion and that kind of thing?

Caprice: Yeah, definitely my interest in fashion, but just having my disability and the ongoing changes with my leg, I couldn't really wear the clothes I wanted to wear. So earrings and accessories make me express myself if that makes sense. Feeling more confident in myself so yeah.

And there was an instance as well, I saw a really nice pair of earrings that I wanted, but they were like £20. And it was just like I could do it myself. [laughs] I can just do this myself so that's where it kind of like that idea came from as well. As well as obviously my story with you know, my disability and fashion accessories. So yeah, that's how it kind of started.

Erin: Yeah, it's like...

Caprice: I hope that made sense I feel like that was just a mouthful!

Erin: No, it does on terms of the affordability. It's just like there's so much in the news right now about the cost of living and just, you know, everything's going up, isn't it? And it's just like things are so, obviously, you know, making things yourself, like prices are marked up just like so much to compared to what it actually would have maybe cost to make it.

So yeah, how's it been going in terms of like growing that kind of brand for you and I'm guessing kind of Instagram’s kind of been one of the the main places that you’ve been doing that.

Caprice: So right now what I'm going through with my university, it's taken me away from it quite a lot. So I feel like I haven't really had the opportunity to push it as much as I wanted to. I launched in September. I think I launched like a few days after starting university. So it's been a lot like juggling the two. But yeah, I've really wanted to push it more, but I just haven't had the time to do it. So I'm hoping once my university situation is settled down, I can push it more. I can expand what I've done already because I've been really wanting to do that. And yeah.

Erin: And how do you feel in terms of obviously visibility for like disabled entrepreneurs as well. Obviously we've talked about, you know behind the scenes creators, do you think there's like good visibility for, you know, small business owners? You actually wrote that great blog for Leonard Cheshire actually highlighting some great business owners.

But, I imagine there's, there's loads out there, and obviously I know that Instagram is a platform where everyone is trying to get a piece of the pie, isn't it? Uhm, do you feel like that visibility could be improved as well so that people are actually, you know, putting their support behind that a bit more too?

Caprice: Oh definitely, absolutely. Like you said, I've written a blog for you guys. So that was just, thank you so much for opportunity, really, that you've really given me a platform to share my business, but other people’s business’ as well. So I think we need more people like you guys you know that have these platforms that promote these businesses. But in terms of the visibility I don't know really, because that that's a really hard question. I feel like disabled entrepreneurs can push themselves even more, and be proud of their disabilities. Like this is my business, but I've also got this disability. Does that make sense?

Erin: Yeah, kind of like talking about it in line with the business and like yeah whole part of a core part of what the kind of business vision is, I guess.

Caprice: Yeah, exactly exactly. Because I know a lot of the people that I included in that blog, they how can I describe it? Exactly what you just said. It's like, the core of their business that, if makes sense. So one lady in particular she sells like candles and soap and she sells oils as well. I can't remember what her disability, but it's basically to help, I think the pain, so I think the oils are to help her pain. So it's like I said, the core of the business, so it'll be great to see more businesses kind of talk about that as well and why they've started it in in regards to their disability.

Erin: Yeah I like that, that sounds really good as well. Then kind of coming back to like the modeling and the business side of things, like what would you, what advice would you give to someone that maybe wanted to think about getting into modeling or to starting up their own brand, or you know their own their own business? What kind of would be your top tips on that?

Caprice: So with modeling, my advice would be definitely do your research. Find an agency in your niche. With me obviously I've got a disability so Zebedee when I came across them it was perfect for me because they have, you know, my best interest behind the scenes and in front. And put yourself out there and go for it.

Definitely just go for it. And business - put your ideas together, experiment and again just go for it and if it doesn't work out, try and try again. Keep going, I've had things with my business that didn't go right and I just kept going until I was ready to launch it and put it out there. I mean they’re still going! I don't know where it's going to go! [laughs] So yeah, like I said, just keep going and definitely put yourself out there yeah. And then did you say social media?

Erin: Yeah, I guess as well part of that is growing your social media presence and you know, targeting the right people. I think people think they need loads of followers don't they? But actually I think these days it's all about like the quality of your followers.

Caprice: Oh yeah, absolutely right. Yeah, and I think always lead with passion as well. If you're passionate about something, the rest will follow. And I always say this, but become the change you want to see in this world. So like I said always just be passionate and you know try and create change if that's what you want to do.

Erin: And do you feel like there are you know in recent years, I think with social media like that is such a great platform for like breaking down stigmas and challenging misconceptions. And you know, there's so many amazing like disabled content creators out there. Do you feel...

Caprice: Oh definitely.

Erin: Like that's changed so much kind of in the last few years and did that kind of inspire you I guess on on social media as well, knowing that there's a whole community of people doing it?

Caprice: Oh god, yeah, definitely the disabled community on Instagram is just amazing honestly, and that definitely did inspire me to do it as well. I remember when I first became disabled at 10, there wasn't... was Instagram around? Dunno [laughs] Well, I was 10 so not going to be on Instagram!

Yeah, there was nothing that I could look at on social media or just in the world and think Oh my God, I wanna, you know I feel more confident in myself now. So in this day and age, there's so much more people like you said on social media pushing, you know, love yourself, this is my disability, I'm proud of me and you know, sharing mobility aids so it's definitely...yeah

Erin: Yeah, so imagine at 10 I obviously, back then like there wouldn’t have been like probably any disability representation looking in a magazine like you know nothing and that could be really like isolating if you're looking at pictures and you’re not like feeling like you're relating to anyone.

Caprice: Yeah, definitely.

Erin: And I mean hopefully that's obviously changing, like with the work that you're doing and the fact that Zebedee are kind of working with some really great brands. But uhm, yeah, do you feel like that kind of you know, positivity movement has really ramped up a lot recently as well on social? And kind of I'd say like there's lots more articles now isn't there about like disability and like disability being sexy

Caprice: Yeah, yeah.

Erin: and like there's such great content out there to challenge people kind of stigmas, do you think that's kind of been a positive thing as well?

Caprice: Oh my God, that's been yeah amazing. The positivity in regards to disability acceptance, I mean it's not for everyone and I completely get that. You know, some people aren't disability positive they you know, you know which is completely understandable, I just think everyone has their own journey with their disability.

You know feeling sexy, feeling positive, and so I think the whole positivity movement is is great. And like I said, it's not, it's not for everyone. Which is completely understandable.

Erin: Yeah, like you say it can take time can’t it? And obviously, everyone’s experiences are different and experiences online as well. Like obviously online can also be a pretty frustrating and scary place as well. With you know online kind of disability hate crime and that kind of thing. How do you kind of, I mean, what tips would you give as well for kind of removing yourself from kind of - hopefully you don't experience any negativity on the platform - but if if you do, kind of what would advice would you give to someone? Because you know, I think maybe that could also be like something that maybe prevents someone from starting up a platform

Caprice: Yeah, absolutely.

Erin: Yeah, would you give any advice on kind of how to how to deal with that and navigate around that?

Caprice: Well, thankfully I haven't actually received much hate on social media. I did get a comment on on Tik Tok. Someone commented why you using crutches, you're not disabled. So I was like ooh my first hate comment. I don't know. [laughs]

Erin: Wow they know you so well so. Obviously, they can say what you should be doing! [laughs]

Caprice: Yeah, I know. Exactly. But yeah, like I said, thankfully I haven't received much hate so. I just feel like in this instance it's easier said than done. You know, I could say, you know, ignore it or you know, so I don't know what advice I would give really. It's just hard because you know people are horrible on social media. You know when you're behind the screen, you can say anything and do anything. So I just feel like that comes down to individual experience.

Erin: And there's only so much like you can say as well, 'cause you know words do hurt at the end of the day

Capice: Exactly

Erin: Even, and you know it's it as much as you can say ignore it sometimes that you know if you're having a bad day and you see something like that it can affect you, can't it? You know, we're really hoping that they're gonna bring in better laws and better regulations. That's what needs to change. Rather than the individual having to like rise above, it needs to be

Caprice: Exactly, exactly, I completely agree with you.

Erin: Yeah, and you mentioned Tik Tok just then. I guess that's it. I think this is the thing as well, isn’t it, being online that there's always like new things to be keeping up with, an new platform to be getting on with. Is that a platform you're kind of finding you're using more and it's kind of useful in terms of like - I can't say I use it that much, yeah just showing my age - but is that would you say it's a good platform in terms of promoting like your jewelry and stuff? Are you finding that's a good place to kind of get that out there?

Caprice: Yeah, it definitely is, and so I have two Tik Toks, a personal one for like the modelling and then one for By Caprice Kwai, which is the jewellery. And yeah, it's been a really good platform to just put together my little videos of the business and yeah. It does OK, it does better than my personal one. I don't really use, my personal one. But yeah, like I said obviously, what I'm going through now, I haven't really been creating content, so hopefully soon I can pick that back up and I know with those platforms it's about being consistent as well. So yeah hopefully, hopefully once I've sorted this situation I can get back to that.

Erin: Yeah, 'cause that's the thing isn’t it like doing, you know getting things out there and getting your content out there, it's time consuming. Cause you’ll have to create content, edit it, get it live and like I guess, come up with different ways of like promoting things as well so...

Caprice: Yeah, exactly that was that's hard in itself as well!

Erin: Especially if you’re just one person doing it as well.

Caprice: Yeah exactly, yeah. So it's like, oh God, what am I gonna do next you know? I’ve thought of this idea god yeah, no completely agree completely.

Erin: Yeah, it's kind of always having to just be on on with the trends, isn't it? And figure out what people are engaging with.

Caprice: Yeah exactly.

Erin: Obviously I know you're, you know you're dealing with the university stuff at the moment and hopefully that gets resolved for you really quickly. But what's kind of, you know next for anyone listening that kind of wants to follow your journey. What are kind of your, in the next couple of years, what are the things that you're kind of looking to do and looking forward to?

Caprice: Yeah ooh ok [laughs] this question OK! Well, I know I've been talking about my business, my business, but I definitely would love my business to become a household name and hopefully I can expand my accessories, make them inclusive, adaptive, and just continue with my modelling journey and raising awareness for that. I've got quite a few good campaigns coming out in the next few months, so hopefully that continues. Yeah, continuing with the modelling journey becoming the change I want to see in this world. And yeah, just really driving that home really!

Erin: Amazing well what I'll do is come on our show notes on our simplecast site, I'll pop all the links to your socials and also to your jewellery so whoever is listening can check that out!

Caprice: Ah thank you.

Erin: But thank you so much it's been really great talking to you.

Caprice: Ah, thank you so much for having me, it's been really lovely talking to you too.

Erin: It was just so lovely catching up with Caprice and hearing her thoughts on you know what still needs to change within the fashion industry, the kinds of experiences she’s been having, and I felt like she gave some really great advice for future content creators as well.
You can check out Caprice on Instagram @CapriceKwai and if you want to take a look at her jewellery business, head to @bycapricekwai.

And I’ll pop those links and the links to our website and also the blog that she wrote for Leonard Cheshire, I’ll put all of those links in the Shownotes of our Simplecast site as well.
As always we would love to know what you think, so please do email us at disabilitydownload@leonardcheshire.org or you can get in touch with us on Twitter or Instagram @leonardcheshire – and if you’ve got a guest in mind for the episode – or you know you want to come on yourself – please do not hesitate to get in touch.
And please do remember to like, share and subscribe to the podcast!

Thanks so much for listening everyone– stay safe, until next time, I’m Erin and this has been The Disability Download!