Sema Gedik is a fashion designer and inventor who thinks fashion should be for everyone – no matter their shape or size.
During a family holiday, Sema was shopping with her cousin Funda – a little person. She had always known Funda was smaller than other people but hadn’t, until then, seen just how difficult it was for her cousin to buy clothes.
“Funda and other little people I have spoken with don’t feel included in the fashion system,” Sema explains. “They’re not seeing themselves in the fashion ads, so of course they’re questioning ‘is this for me? Can I buy that?’”
Having studied Fashion Design and Clothing Technology, Sema found herself faced with a challenge that she was well placed to tackle.
She created Auf Augenhoehe – “at eye level” – as a fashion label that would be truly inclusive of little people. The entire collection was made to the right proportions and modeled by people with dwarfism.
This meant she also needed a new way to size clothes – one that was fit for purpose outside the fashion industry standard. So she started speaking with people with dwarfism from all over the world and took over 13,000 measurements from 500 little people globally. This data enabled her to create a new, inclusive size chart.
When Sema heard about the Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Frontier Challenge, she was quick to send in her application. “I could see that what we were doing fit so well with the direction Tommy Hilfiger wants to go. I just thought, we need to apply.”
“Funda and other little people I have spoken to don’t feel included in the fashion system, They’re not seeing themselves in the fashion ads, so of course they’re questioning ‘is this for me? Can I buy that?’”
Auf Augenhoehe was one of six finalists taken forward to a sprint week in September 2018. There, each idea was developed further with the help of industry experts. Sema’s focus was on developing a digital Fit Finder: an online tool enabling consumers to enter a couple of key measurements to find their perfect size.
The winners were chosen by an expert celebrity jury panel that included Mr. Tommy Hilfiger, model and activist Arizona Muse, and Managing Director of Fashion for Good, Katrin Ley. A total of €150,000 was awarded by the jury panel to three winners: Selina Wamucii, doctHERs and Auf Augenhoehe.
It was an important moment, Sema says: “This was really the very first time where we all – me, my cousin, my customers – felt part of the fashion industry.”
Auf Augenhoehe’s journey with Tommy Hilfiger is only just beginning. Together we are working to bring fashion to little people in more countries across the world, and thanks to the prize funding, Fit Finder technology will launch in 2020. Sema will also be working to make 3D scanning technology more accurate for non-standard proportions, to scale access to made-to-measure clothing.
“The Tommy Hilfiger team are super open-minded,” Sema adds. “They really want to develop something together with us, they’re very ambitious.”
Ultimately, Sema wants to see a world where everyone is welcomed into fashion, whatever their body shape. “I hope that in 10 years’ time, inclusion and diversity isn’t just a trend topic that different industries are talking about – that inclusion is just a part of how we live together.”
“Fashion has political power – people make statements with what they’re wearing. This has a big influence on how we are with each other, how we are creating society.”
Competitions like the Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Frontier Challenge play an important part in making this possible. Sema emphasizes that when big brands work with entrepreneurs, the benefits run both ways. “It is so important for startups because it improves our visibility among the people we want to serve. On the other hand, startups can help big companies to create even more powerful social value.”
And it is power, Sema adds, that is really at the heart of why fashion is so important for creating a more inclusive world. “Fashion has political power – people make statements with what they’re wearing. This has a big influence on how we are with each other, how we are creating society. Fashion is a trendmaker, which means it can also be a changemaker.”