Fashion Dis delivers a new evolution to the makeover format

The team behind the upcoming AMI unscripted series discuss adapting the development and production process for added accessibility.

A ccessible Media Inc. (AMI) and Toronto’s Nikki Ray Media Agency aim to bring inclusive fashion to the mainstream with the upcoming unscripted makeover series Fashion Dis.

The 6 x 30-minute series, which will premiere on AMI on Feb. 9, is hosted by fashion expert and blogger Ardra Shephard. Each episode sees a person with a disability who feels “dissed” by the fashion world paired with experts to help them discover accessible fashion options.

The experts include makeup artist Bella Strange, hair stylist Susan Shipley, style expert Izzy Camilleri, with photographer KC Armstrong and art director Melonie Lawrence working with guests on a fashion photoshoot.

The concept for the series came from Shephard herself. Andrew Morris, manager of independent production at AMI, tells Playback Daily he approached her after reading her blog, Tripping on Air, which documents her experience with multiple sclerosis.

“I was so impressed by [her blog],” says Morris. “I thought, ‘this is a person that speaks our language and that could potentially be a really great creator.’ She’s a fantastic advocate for people with disabilities in style and fashion.”

Reaching out to potential creators is part of AMI’s ongoing content strategy, according to Morris, who says they’re looking for “big, bold ideas with unique perspectives that have traditionally been avoided in mainstream media.”

He says Fashion Dis perfectly fits the bill, where the series isn’t about a person’s struggle with a disability, but about making fashion more accessible in a world that caters to a narrow idea of what a typical body looks like.

Nikki Ray Media, which has produced unscripted series such as Food Network Canada’s Fire Masters and HGTV Canada’s Home to Win, came on board in fall 2020 after pitching their take on the series to AMI, according to showrunner Cara Volchoff. Fashion Dis continued its development process for nearly a year before going to camera in September 2021.

Part of the development process was to adjust the typical makeover format, subbing out a big reveal to friends and family with a high-fashion photoshoot. “Rather than just getting a makeover, they learn the skills and the tools needed to do an element of their makeup, their hair or skin regime, and how to dress in a way that not only works for their body, and in some cases their disability, but also for their fashion,” says Volchoff.

Development for the series involved training the producers on integrated described video (IDV), which brings accessible practices for blind or partially sighted viewers into the development and production stage, rather than added described video in post-production.

“That was the biggest learning curve for us to make sure that we were always speaking in such a way that was specific to what we’re seeing,” says Volchoff. “Rather than just grabbing a jacket from the rack, you’d say, ‘I’m going to grab this red jacket from the rack and pair it with these blue denim pants.’”

Volchoff says AMI paired them with their in-house specialist Ron Rickford to ensure IDV was baked into the process, adding that the production method is easily done once a producer is able to fully understand it.

Morris says IDV has helped evolve their development process, where they’re able to simultaneously produce a series for television and as a podcast. For example, they plan the audio mixing ahead to ensure it varies between scenes to provide an audible cue that there’s been a cut, rather than just relying on visuals.

Blue Ant Media will handle international sales for the series, including the format, which executive producer Tanya Linton says has “huge potential” for adaptations in global markets.

Volchoff says Nikki Ray Media hasn’t gotten the greenlight for a second season yet, but is eager for a chance to keep the series going. “When you’re trying to do a show that’s never been done before, you’re trying to get diversity within disability, within age, within gender, within sexuality, within ethnicity… to have six people carry the weight of an entire community, that’s been dissed from the fashion industry for so long,” she says. “I think we did a good job of it, I just want more.”

Image courtesy of AMI; pictured (L-R): KC Armstrong, Susan Shipley, Izzy Camilleri, Ardra Shephard, Melonie Lawrence and Bella Strange