Libby Wadle is NOT Wearing Glasses
Posted on July 8, 2014
Pre-P.S. I write frequent letters to J. Crew asking them to sell assistive devices (such as my cane) in their ‘In Good Company’ curated collection. There is also a petition. Will you consider signing and supporting?
Dear Libby Wadle,
Check out the photo above. You are the only person not wearing glasses. It’s usually the other way around. Out of the 24 characters in the game ‘Guess Who?’, only five wore glasses. I honestly can’t decide if you would be Anita or Maria. But anyway, you are J. Crew’s President of Brand and I like to write about the stigma of assistive devices, so I am hoping you will lend me a few moments of your time. You see, I’m trying to change the world, and I need your help.
When J. Crew first came on the scene in 1983, their target customer was probably a little bit younger than it is now (but then again, so was the population). J. Crew has historically been a company that experiences very high brand loyalty. That original baby boomer customer is now nearing retirement age. I can imagine you have worked very hard to retain your aging shopper while continuing to be an aspirational brand for younger customers.
I mean look at these Tweets (and there are tons just like this):
How have you been so successful in targeting older folks while catering to the younger population? This is something the disability community has struggled to do. There are just as many adults with disabilities under retirement age as there above. It’s just that disabled people under retirement age remain overlooked in both medical literature and as consumers. So while I will cite research about our aging population, I hope you will keep consumers like me in mind. I am 32 years old, I started using my cane when I was 29. I’m a 99-percenter who strives to dress like a 2-percenter, and I want more options.
But back to these photos of you, Mickey Drexler, Jenna Lyons, Tom Mora and Frank Muytjens. What would it look like if you reshot this photo in 30 years time (as that’s approximately how long J. Crew has been J. Crew). I imagine that the five of you will be surrounded by and exemplify beauty (and hopefully wrinkles). I just hope you will be fortunate enough to see it. In 2013, the American Federation of the Blind published a Special Report on Aging and Vision Loss. And I hate to burst your bubble but you may be joining the rest of your eyeglass wearing peers in the not so distant future.
The prevalence of vision loss will double by 2030. On top of that, not everyone who uses eye glasses will meet the criteria of vision loss. There are many more adults who require a mild eyeglass prescription and are not represented in these numbers. Furthermore, it has been approximated that 20% of all eyeglass frames are worn without a prescription. But eyeglasses are just one form of assistive device.
In 2007, the Institute of Medicine projected that the prevalence of assistive devices will increase exponentially in the coming decades. But unlike the statistics above, the IOM acknowledges that adults with milder impairments will be more inclined to use devices like canes so long as stigma doesn’t lead them to abandon it.
You spoke to Fast Company Design about the need for a healthy tension between designers and merchandisers that ultimately lends itself to a better product. But this doesn’t apply to assistive devices. Check out this depressing quote from the IOM’s ’The Future of Disability in America’:
“Almost two-thirds of [assistive device companies] indicated that they were “passive in their pursuit of new ideas—or not interested at all”.
At the same time, the IOM acknowledges that “consumer involvement in the selection process (rather than an essentially one-sided prescription by a health care professional) helps avoid later rejection or abandonment of the technology”.
This is the solution as I see it: Merchandisers need to carry assistive devices. This will spur innovative design concepts. Through these two actions, we will then be able to speak of a newly found healthy tension between assistive device designers and mainstream merchandisers.
Disabled people number in the billions worldwide. Do you know how much money a billion people can spend? I did a little math and figured if every disabled person worldwide spent just one dollar at J. Crew, that would be a billion dollars. It seems that marketing to and designing for your disabled customers could be extremely profitable. We don’t want charity, we want to be included in the marketplace. So…
P.S. If you’re not up for circling, you can always sign.