Fashion is its own kind of language. The way we dress and express ourselves through our fashion choices helps us communicate our personal style, identity and culture to the rest of the world. One new business in the Illawarra region is expanding the world of fashion to make sure that local women living with a disability can build their self-esteem, confidence and individual expression through their clothes and accessories.
'Fashion For Ability – Not Disability' was established in 2016 by Ilinka Brankovic, a young woman with an ambition to create a safe yet empowering space where other young women with disabilities could explore the world of fashion. Ilinka’s aim is to help other young women embrace the art of how to ‘Dress for Success’ in both their personal and professional lives.
Ilinka is a Speak My Language Ambassador, having helped shape and co-create the program during our design phase in 2020. We were excited to catch up with her and find out how her own small business is helping others in her community live well.
Hi Ilinka, tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Ilinka Brankovic and I'm 35 years old. I was born with a birth defect Spina Bifida / Hydrocephalus and I also have a mild case of Epilepsy which came on during my teenage years. While I have experienced my own challenges that come with my circumstances, having a disability hasn’t stopped me from having a great life.
Tell us why you started Fashion for Ability - Not Disability?
For many years now I have had an urge to develop a place where young women like myself can go to have fun, explore the world of fashion and find out how beautiful and wonderful all women are, inside and out, regardless of ability or disability.
When did your love of fashion start?
My love for fashion started when I was a young girl and has been like that ever since. My Mum has been my biggest mentor. I was always going into her wardrobe and looking at her clothes and trying on her shoes, even though I can't wear heels. My other family members are like that too - I guess it's in my Genes (Jeans)!
Speak My Language is all about living well with a disability. How does fashion help you and others “live well”?
Fashion, for me, helps me live well as it boosts my confidence, makes me feel great and live well, on top of a healthy diet and being active. Adaptive Fashion plays a big role especially for women - if we feel good about ourselves, we look and feel confident too, especially for disabled ladies as there is not much out there for us.
At ‘Fashion For Ability’ the focus is not on the disability, rather than ability. It is about being the best you can be, feeling outrageously wonderful, and feeling confident both on the inside and outside.
You haven’t just created a brand, but a community! How has this business venture helped you connect with other people?
Wow, it's helped me connect with so many people, other girls with disabilities and people that are involved in other businesses that have helped me expand my Fashion Brand to what it is today.
I started my fashion site on Facebook 'Fashion for Ability - not Disability' because I wanted to start a Fashion Page to show us girls with disabilities that fashion doesn't have to mean an expensive outfit, especially if you can't afford it - you can look Fabulous in TK MAXX or TARGET. It's the ability to look fabulous in anything in any price range.
The group has now grown from a small, humble gathering of friends, to a growing Facebook group with new women joining weekly. It is so interesting hearing about all the different stories about their lives, living with a disability and how they cope everyday, I guess because I can relate.
Lastly, you were a part of the early co-design for the Speak My Language program, helping us make the program what it is today. Why do you think we need to share more stories about living well with a disability from culturally diverse voices?
I think there needs to be more stories shared to show that there can be many different people with disabilities that come from all different cultural backgrounds, to show we are just as great at what we do, we can be like everybody else - except we have different backgrounds and might do things a little different!
The official launch of Fashion For Ability - Not Disability is taking place on Saturday 11 September 2021, from 11.30 AM - 2.30 PM at the Shellharbour Council Council Auditorium, Shellharbour. Learn more and RSVP here.