Women in Fashion – Alexandra Kutas
30 March 2021
Author: Jasmine Waters
“If you can’t find the solution, be a part of it”.
Alexandra Kutas is exactly the kind of woman I want to see in the fashion industry. A woman with a disability from birth and the world’s first runway model in a wheelchair, she’s passionate, self-assured and the perfect example of success and inner worth only being defined by yourself. It seems as though fashion is finally starting to wake up to this realisation too, with the first woman in a wheelchair to cover Cosmopolitan UK in January and the demand for the public to feel heard, supported and cared for more apparent than ever before. As the global market for adaptive clothing is expected to be worth almost $400 billion by 2026, Alexandra’s creation Puffins Fashion is set to be a much-needed solution to adaptive weather-proof wear. I spoke to her to find out more about her upbringing, inspirations and future plans for her brand and beyond.
Before Puffins Fashion was even on the horizon, Alexandra was instinctively drawn to clothes from day one. “Even though my family didn’t have much money, my mother always cared about my outfits, she thought it was an important way of self-expression” she says. “Since my young years I enjoyed wearing bright mono colours, never was a big fan of prints. I tried different styles, I liked it when my clothes made me stand out from the crowd”. However, accessibility issues presented themselves early on. “Certain types of clothes (like jeans) were challenging to put on by myself, so when I became a teenager, I started to wear mostly skirts - not only because of fashion - but also out of necessity”.
“I've never seen people like me in a wheelchair in any magazine, movie or painting”.
Many fashion memories were made - such as the red prom dress that made Alexandra feel beautiful - despite never seeing herself represented in any kind of fashion or media outlet. At the age of 18, the chance to step into the industry unfolded almost like a Hollywood movie. “I was spotted in a café during lunch time. We smiled and complemented each other’s outfit, while I was invited to have a photoshoot. I fell in love with the process of photography and the feeling of being able to express myself through the camera. From that little seed, a big desire to work in the fashion world was born”. But has the world of fashion always been so loving back?
“I’ve been blessed to work with talented, open-minded people in fashion industry across the globe. However, I’ve never felt supported by the industry as whole in a systemic way”, Alexandra says. “During my fight for disability representation in the modelling industry, I had to reach out to over 300 agencies before I signed with one based in India in August 2017. In the last few years there has definitely been progress, though. Things are getting better in the UK, but there is still a long way to go. I still don’t see wheelchair users on billboards”.
Five years after starting her successful modelling career, Alexandra’s now turning her attention to the clothes themselves, with her own brand of adaptive clothing Puffins Fashion. The journey from model to CEO is rooted in Alexandra’s personal reality of needing to neglect personal comfort. “The initial idea comes from my own experience, as rainy London was an inspiration for our raincoat innovation. Before the lockdown, I enjoyed the freedom of London's accessible infrastructure as much as I could. It began to change my mind. Life is not and should not always be a struggle”.
“I’m from Ukraine and we have a saying: ‘It's okay to suffer for beauty’. I do not believe so anymore. Maybe I'm growing up, hopefully becoming more mature. I want to wear comfortable, stylish clothes that respect my physical needs. That’s one of the reasons why I worked with Fedir Vozianov to create the brand. If you can't find the solution, be a part of it. Our first raincoat collection protects all from the cold and wet - weather you're on your feet or in a wheelchair”.
“Growing up using a wheelchair in a country where I never had the luxury of just taking a walk on my own, I learned that I have to adapt”.
Following a lengthy process of feedback, prototypes and idea transformation, Puffins Fashion is almost ready to launch. “We’ll start to deliver our adaptive raincoats to the doors of our customers”, Alexandra says. “The goal is to provide access to high quality, stylish and practical adaptive outerwear in every corner of the world where it is needed. As a trailblazing fashion brand, we want to make sure that we set the high standards for this developing market”. The collection harness uniquely adaptive features, such as water and wear-resistant sleeves, magnetic closures and attachable leg coverings.
As for industry support – keep asking questions. “See disabled industry members as professionals. The ultimate goal is a world of equal opportunities where people are seen through their professionalism, drive and humanity, but not something which was given without choice. Support inclusive fashion brands by wearing their clothes if you like the style. I’m very excited to see how people without disabilities will be using our special adaptive features. That’s the beauty of inclusive innovation, it serves everyone in more interesting ways”.
“Be open and do not be afraid to ask questions. If there is a will there is always a way”.
Alexandra’s final words of advice? “I deeply believe that there is no one and nothing besides you who can define who you are and what you can or cannot do. Even when it seems like not everyone in this world may support what you believe in if you know in your heart that what you stand for is right, I say to you - keep pushing. Have a vision share it openly with others through your work. That’s how you will attract like-minded people. Believe in yourself, trust your instincts even when the choice is painful”.
Puffins Fashion is set to launch in April, with pre-orders available here.