During the racial reckoning that followed George Floyd's killing in May, the fashion industry began striving toward more inclusive practices. But one marginalized community was noticeably left out of the conversation: Black disabled people. Jillian Mercado, one of the few professional models in the fashion industry with a physical disability, immediately took note.
“When you talk about diversity and inclusion, you always have to talk about who people are hiring, and people who are disabled are never part of [the conversation],” Mercado tells Bustle. “So I was like, ‘If you’re Black, disabled, and in a creative field, I want to know about you.’”
To amplify those voices, Mercado founded Black Disabled Creatives, a first-of-its-kind database that highlights creatives who are also Black and disabled. “Being a creative myself, I know a lot of disabled people who are so awesome, they’re Black as well and I’m like, ‘Where is this list?’” she shares. “We need this list.”
As a fashion industry veteran, Mercado is in the perfect position to open the door for Black disabled creatives like herself. She has appeared in numerous campaigns for the likes of Beyoncé, Diesel, Nordstrom, and Target. Most recently, she signed on as ambassador for Aerie’s new activewear brand OFFLINE. The brand is made with comfort as a top priority and includes updated features like no center seam within its leggings for optimal support. Mercado, who says she's a big fan of the sports bras, has long been a supporter of Aerie and its commitment to inclusivity.
“Aerie was one of the first brands that really understood the authenticity of each individual,” Mercado says, noting that the brand stopped retouching images in 2014, long before its contemporaries. “Everything was photoshopped, so it wasn’t raw,” Mercado explains. “Aerie was listening to their audience, and that always really resonated with me. They make sure that someone like myself is being represented, which is beautiful.”
Her partnership with Aerie means endless comfy clothes at a time when we are experiencing peak comfiness in our wardrobes. “Nowadays, I’m mostly at home and I am in a very comfy-wear situation,” she says. “Pajamas and leggings have basically become my everyday attire. But even though I’m wearing comfortable clothing, I make sure it at least looks cute for myself because that’s so important.”
Scroll ahead to shop a few of Mercado's favorite pieces from Offline.
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