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#BlackDisabledGirlMagic Series: Kathy D. Woods, Fashion Designer for Little Women

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Image of Kathy D. Woods, a Black little woman. Kathy is outside and standing in front of a white building. Kathy is wearing a red-orange snakeskin-printed dress with black dress shoes. Kathy is smiling directly into the camera.

Fashion and feeling good in the clothes you wear are important, and for some disabled women, it can be a challenge to find apparel that fits your body type and shape.  Luckily, clothing lines are recognizing that disabled women (and disabled people in general) are an overlooked consumer market, and are designing clothes that makes us feel comfortable and confident.

Kathy D. Woods has taken this one step further by becoming a designer that targets little women like herself by establishing her self-titled Collection brand:  Kathy D. Woods.  Kathy resides in Santa Clarita, California, and has received national attention for her brand and the work she is doing to allow disabled women to feel fierce and dynamic as they conquer the world.

VT:  Tell us about yourself.  

KDW:  I am the first African American Little Person Fashion Designer who is a strong woman of faith and integrity.  I am a wife and a mother who has a vision to change the world and not allow the world to change me.  I am a native of Cincinnati, Ohio who would love to live in Atlanta, Georgia someday.  I am a former preschool teacher, who has taken on and challenged the fashion industry by constructing an affordable, quality clothing collection for Little People.  I am an entrepreneur that decided to start this clothing venture with the help of my husband Dana, after years of frustration in not finding clothing that fit properly and paying for costly alterations.  In 2008, after our son DJ was born, I felt it was time to make a change in the fashion industry and I was the driving force in developing the first online ready-to-wear Apparel Company for Little People.  

In 2010, with the help of a mentor, Natalie Smith, the Kathy D Woods Collection was born.

My husband and I are not designers by trade, so we immediately became members of Fashion Business Inc. (FBI), an organization dedicated to mentoring fashion entrepreneurs, founded by France Harder.  Dana and I have accepted the responsibility of learning all about fashion and have courageously surrounded ourselves with a team of experienced professionals in the fashion industry who share our vision.

My mission is to serve the Little People community by offering a fresh, exciting brand of clothing with an impeccable fit, style, and timeless appeal that cannot be found anywhere else.  I have developed designs with the most common form of Dwarfism in mind (Achondroplasia).

 

VT:  What has been some of your achievements in your work?

KDW:  I find inspiration in former First Lady Michelle Obama, with her approach to raising expectations and pride among African-American women and girls.  I had the honor of visiting the White House and meeting President Barack Obama in June of 2015, as a guest during the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In September of 2016, I was invited back to the White House for the event, “Inclusive Designs,” as a trailblazer in the Little People community for my fashion designs.  At the event, I served on a panel with such innovators as Pradeep Sharma of the Rhode Island School of Design; Matthew Walzer, a student at Florida Gulf Coast University; and Tobie Hatfield, a Senior Director for Nike.

 

VT:  What barriers did you experience in establishing your fashion line as a Black disabled woman?  Do you feel supported by the disabled community in what you do?

KDW:  As a woman of color I’ve experienced a number of barriers when dealing with fabric companies, apparel manufacturers, and investors.  One aspect is trying to convince these individuals that my business is a viable one.  Due to the fact that my community is not of the mass market, it’s not considered as a need; it’s viewed only as a “one hit wonder!”

Unfortunately, I do not feel an overall sense of support by the Little People community.  Frankly, because of the hand society has dealt us, some Little People do not easily adjust to change.  Instead of embracing something new that will empower LP’s, they are content with remaining stagnant.  It seems to me that they’re in shock!  I believe it’s going to take a number of Collections from KDW to gain the recognition from the mainstream fashion world and convince LP’s that we matter!

 

VT:  What are the obstacles Black disabled women face in society?  In our disabled community?  

KDW:  One of the obstacles black Little Women face is being able to be taken seriously and maintaining a level of respect.  I have had the pleasure of recently coming in contact with Little Women of color through social media and in speaking to these women, I have found that there’s a lack of awareness and exposure.

 

VT:  How can our community support/uplift Black disabled women?  What does that look like for you?

KDW:  Little Women of Color, and Little Women in general, can stop tearing each other down and start uplifting one another.  Since Little People have become a “hot commodity” through today’s media, I wish that LP’s would use their platform for the betterment of the disabled community.  I have discovered through my experiences that people in the entertainment industry are not use to the word “no!”  What may seem like a lucrative offer on the surface may not portray your morals and values. I also think it is important to not erase the contributions of black members of our community, and specifically black women.  Oftentimes their histories get swept under the rug, which really fails to paint the full picture of just how diverse our community is.  People act like the accomplishments of black disabled women are not a big deal and don’t deserve proper attention and hype when that’s just not the case. It’s fine when black disabled women are in supporting roles or providing entertainment, but not when they’re running industries or setting agendas.

 

VT:  How did you come into your Black disabled womanness?  What struggles have you experienced, and are still conquering?  

KDW:  I came into by Black disabled womanness very early.  I grew up with two boys and I was the only LP in my family.  My mother was much harder on me than my two brothers because she knew I was going to face difficult challenges in the world.    

So she did everything in her power to prepare me for the real world.  My mother did not accept excuses.  

One struggle of mine that I’m still conquering is my weight.

 

VT:  What does it mean to be a Black disabled woman in America?

KDW:  As a black disabled woman, I feel we have to work 3 times as hard to succeed.  In June of 2015, when I was invited to the White House for the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Americans with Disabilities Act to meet President Barack Obama, I felt a sense of hope and that the President really cared about the disabled community.  After the phenomenal experience, I felt like I needed to do more to bring awareness to the Little People Community. I am reminded by a quote of Shirley Chisholm:  “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”  With that in mind, I always remind my husband that we cannot sit on the sidelines and wait for things to happen.  We have to what we can do and leave the results up to GOD.  James 2:26 says, “Faith without works is dead!”

I was featured in Lead On Network (an online magazine) as the First Black Disability Designer Making History.  As the article stated, I am expanding my brand by working to transform the perceptions of Little People globally.  I want little girls with dwarfism to turn on their TVs and be greeted with positive images of their community.  

I am also taking steps to build the Kathy D Woods Foundation for Little People of Color and people from all different walks of life.

After waking up on November 9th, 2016, with a new administration in place, I feel our community has a lot of work ahead of us.

 

VT:  If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?  

KDW:  Finish college!

 

VT:  For the Black disabled women who may read this, what words of wisdom/love would you want to share?  

KDW:  There are 3 C’s of life that I live by: Choice, Chances and Changes.  You must make a Choice. take a Chance, or your life will never Change.

In other words, jump off that cliff, take a risk and trust GOD in whatever you do.  People that know me, know that I am fearless.  I do not allow my size to get in the way of anything.

When I started my journey to pursue the Kathy D Woods collection, I knew it was going to be a challenge because when God gives you a dream, you can expect a storm.  To get through the storm you are going to experience some turbulence (haters, takers, users, manipulators, liars, dream killers, setbacks, etc.); these are called distractions.

My advice is: stay on the road or flight until you get through the storm and see what GOD has for you.  He did not say it was going to be easy; you have to hang on because it’s going to get bumpy.  I believe you go through storms of life to build your character.  Don’t give up and don’t give in.

We all have a purpose no matter what walks of life we come from!

 

VT:  What’s a little known fact about you?

KDW:  I’m a go getter!  I’m extremely generous and have a special place in my heart for the elderly and the homeless. Also, I love action movies, and peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

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Final Thoughts

Befriending Kathy, and learning about her passion about her work and empowering her community has been a blessing to experience.  We need more disabled people in this market and we need to support those who are ensuring that clothes are inclusive to everyone’s needs.  You can find Kathy on social media:  Twitter: @kathydwoods; Instagram: @kathywoods; and Facebook: KDW & Kathy D Woods.

Today is International Women’s Day, and the observance reminded me as to why I am doing this series:  Women are phenomenal and our voices and stories matter.  Women like Kathy and those who will be featured this month give me the energy I need to face the world and demand that my existence be respected and valued.  Women supporting, loving, and validating each other cannot be dismissed as unimportant – having sisters (or for me, disabled Sistagirls) are lifelines as we navigate society and fight injustices.  

Next week we will meet another woman who exemplifies #BlackDisabledGirlMagic wiith her writings and advocacy.  

Until then, let’s be reminded who runs the world:  GIRLS

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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