An interview from a disabled personal stylist
My name is Heidi Herkes and I’m a disabled personal stylist. I have a keen interest in helping women who have been through trauma or are wanting a boost in self-confidence. I also run a YouTube channel where I talk all about beauty and fashion, demonstrating how I still live a fulfilling life with my disability.
Thank you for introducing yourself. Were you always into fashion and beauty?
Prior to my accident, I used to run a successful hair and make-up company that specialised in weddings. I’ve always been very creative and enjoyed helping women feel and look good, especially on their wedding day. It was something I loved and something I was good at. However, this all came to a standstill when I fell down the stairs, breaking my neck and leaving me paralysed from the chest down. My whole life was pieces and it took a long time to put back together.
I no longer had the ability to walk or use my hands, I was rattling around in a battered NHS wheelchair and was always wearing baggy gym clothes whilst at rehab. I felt I had lost my identity and was so disconnected to the woman that I once was.
Relentless medical administration and trying to get to grips with paralysis consumed me, leaving me with very little inspiration after being in hospital for almost a year. Having said that, I always tried to keep up my appearance by putting on make-up every day and making sure that my hair looked nice. This in turn gave me some confidence back and salvaged the Heidi that I once knew.
How did you become a personal stylist?
After leaving hospital and adapting to my new way of life, I grew to realise the importance of style. Just because the new me was in a chair, I didn’t want to be defined by it. Fashion at the time became so important to me and I made it my prerogative to become an expert in it.
I decided to train as a personal stylist and since then I’ve never looked back. Personal styling is such a rewarding kind of career and I love helping people in this way. A typical day as a personal stylist involves preparation, research and lots of shopping! Learning about who your client is and what they are looking to achieve is key. It’s about listening to your clients’ needs and lifestyle, creating something that they will feel comfortable in.
Do you have any tips you can share with us, when it comes to accessible fashion or shopping?
I’ve had a few disabled clients, mostly wheelchair users. I normally carry out a similar styling session. I go into more depth however, depending on what their concerns or limitations might be such as:
- Their level of movement,
- If they use a leg bag or an intermittent catheter,
- If they have swollen ankles or legs,
- The style of wheelchair and what foot plates it has, indicating what kind of shoes they can wear,
- If they have any scar tissue or sensitive areas on their body after operations.
My fashion tips for disabled people would be to create height. As a wheelchair user you could start by wearing accessories such as a scarf around your neck, in the right colour depending on your skin tone. Also, a hat or tying your hair up can create volume.
If you are shopping, make sure to choose clothes that you know will fit. If you are not going to wear it at least 30 times, don’t waste your money.
Extra bonus tip
If you use a leg bag for drainage, think about a night bag. You can choose a pretty but large enough bag to attach to the bottom of your chair. You can have the catheter coming out from the top of the fastened zip or make a small hole through the waistline of a skirt or dress and let the tube run down the side. That way you can go out most of the day and not have to worry about your trouser leg looking full or having to constantly empty it.
Self-confidence when using a wheelchair can sometimes be at an all-time low and readjusting can be difficult, but I can say is that I’ve been there, got the T-shirt and that styling helped me 100%!
How are things now? Are there any new projects or ideas you are working on?
I’m currently working on a few exciting projects, including redesigning my wheelchair to make it look more of a fashion statement. I’m working together with an incredibly talented interior/fashion designer called Sera of London, who turns her hand to anything to makes the ordinary into the extraordinary.
I’m also focusing a lot more on my YouTube channel this year, where I’m looking to cover topics all about fashion, beauty and empowerment. I’m hoping to help inspire and motivate people in similar situations into believing in themselves.
Can you relate to Heidi’s story? Do you have any accessible fashion tips as disabled person?