By Naomi Middlebrook
In 2001, Gold Coast lawyer Carol Taylor had a bright, successful future ahead of her in relation to family, friends and career. But a romantic getaway to the Blue Mountains changed her life trajectory in a way she could never imagine.
A car accident left Carol a quadriplegic. Her spinal cord was severed resulting in complete paralysis from the chest down with some arm movement but complete lack of hand or finger movement.
After the accident Carol endured four years of depression but has gone on to embrace her unexpected path with faith, determination and newfound purpose. After these four years of darkness, Carol’s husband Rob came home with art brushes and an enrolment form for art classes. She had never sketched or painted before and described her younger self as “an academic girl with her head constantly in books,” but art soon became her essential focus, her therapy.
Carol was self-taught to begin with, as she couldn’t find a class that would accept a quadriplegic or make the space accessible. Indeed, she has encountered numerous experiences of discrimination over the years including a lack of opportunities to attend and participate in art lessons.
Over the years Carol has taught herself to use her hands and with the aid of devices to enable her to hold a brush, she has become a talented and successful artist. Initially Carol concentrated on oils but quickly became “seduced by the translucency of watercolours.”
Maryanne Holmes, artist, mentor and dear friend to Carol, encouraged her to create and enter art competitions.
Carol has since enjoyed many successes including The Jock McIlwain Award in 2018 and Winner of the QLD Access Arts Award in 2019 which included a $10,000 prize. The cash prize required a business plan and Carol decided to use it to put her art onto fabric and create a small number of pieces that embraced wheelchair access.
Carol has always had a strong interest in fashion design and since her injury she had been adapting designs to suit her disability. In 2019 she was approached by the Director of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival to design a collection of nine pieces of adaptive fashion to open the event, modelled by people with visible disabilities. This was the first time an all-visible disability cast of models showcased on a national runway, and it was met with a standing ovation.
“This was a giant leap forward for Australian fashion,” says Carol.
The outstanding success of this event opened the door to greater awareness for the adaptive clothing fashion industry. Carol Taylor Designs now featured her art and fashion.
“Lived experience of disability is a game changer when designing accessible clothing,
“Accessible clothing is so much more than simply replacing zips and buttons with magnets although this is an obvious start. There are so many issues to be considered most importantly pressure sores which can be diabolical and even fatal, temperature control, chronic nerve pain, change of body shape, and so much more. This is why the lived experience at the design table is so important.”
In 2022 Carol became a partner and lead designer with Jessie Sadler of Christina Stephens, an inclusive Brisbane based fashion label giving people the choice to feel confident and empowered in clothing that looks as good as it feels, and in May their label changed the Australian fashion landscape.
They made history by showcasing their designs on Australia’s first adaptive clothing runway at the Australian Fashion Awards in Sydney. Not only did this event bring adaptive clothing to main fashion but all designs were modelled by people with disability.
They received one of two standing ovations at this event.
To Carol’s knowledge she is the world’s only quadriplegic fashion designer, and the Christina Stephens label is the only adaptive clothing label that not only has lived experience of disability at the design table, but also invested in the business.
When asked about what the future holds, Carol is passionate about expanding the reach of adaptive, inclusive clothing into the mainstream.
“We need to provide an inclusive shopping experience for people with disability or dexterity issues. The aim is for leading department stores and retailers to cater for accessible clothing in the same way they currently do for plus sizes and maternity wear for example.
“Clothing goes to our core sense of identity and most importantly it impacts the way the world perceives and constantly underestimates a person with disability.”
caroltaylordesigns.com.au + christinastephens.com.au
Read Carol's story and more in Nevertheless Journal Two. Available now!