By Catia Malaquias
By the time we publish this, you will probably have read quite a bit about Kmart Australia’s Easter Catalogue and one of their young models, 11-year-old Cooper Smith.
The Kmart Australia Easter catalogue, released at one of the busiest times of the year for the retailer, featured several models with disability enjoying Easter treats, including Cooper, who has Cerebral Palsy, who is featured with his walking frame, holding a giant Easter egg.
Kmart has since released other catalogues that also include other models with disability in what appears to be a major step in adopting inclusive advertising as standard practice and adding disability to its existing efforts to represent the diversity of our community in Kmart marketing images and messages.
A move of this nature by a retailer such as Kmart is important. For a long time, mainstream advertising has represented our society based on a narrow aesthetic for people that has excluded so many of us, notably, anyone with a disability or “difference”. When you look at this within the broader context of historical and cultural attitudes to disability, the significance of representation in advertising is more than skin deep – representation and visibility in mainstream culture is part of a broader challenge to the exclusion of people with disability from the public eye and denial of their right to participate in every area of life as full and equal citizens.
What is also important is that Kmart represented its models with disability within a broader framework of human diversity, along with models of different ages, body shapes and ethnicities. When asked for comment by Mamamia, the retailer responded by saying “Inclusion is important to us at Kmart no matter a person’s race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability, appearance or attitude and we are focused on continuing to improve on this commitment” .
As one of Australia’s largest retail department store brands, Kmart not only has a large and diverse customer base and significant reach but is also in a position to influence other players in the same industry to reconsider the nature of their own marketing messages.
Cooper, who uses a power wheelchair for longer distances, shared the following thoughts with us about modelling and the representation of disability in advertising:
“I have always wanted to model. I love having my photo taken and trying out different poses and facial expressions. I love fashion and shopping for new clothes. My favourite Australian brands right now are Sudo and Bandit Kids. Internationally I love H&M and Next UK and Nike for shoes!
When I look at magazines and TV I never saw anyone with a disability like me who uses a walker and a wheelchair so I felt like I wasn’t represented. I really wanted to try modelling as a child who happens to have a disability.
I represented Kmart in their Easter catalogue in 2016 and I had the best time at the audition and shoot. At the shoot I got to listen to music, try on clothes and hold a massive chocolate egg! I loved seeing myself in the catalogue and want to do it again and again!”
As well as being a young advocate, Cooper is also a big brother to 7-year-old Pepper and 4-year-old Elwood, a history enthusiast, an aspiring journalist, a “foodie” and a seasoned traveller who shares his adventures on Instagram as @thewheelfoodie.
Cooper’s mum, Bron Leeks, described him to us as “caring and funny and very adventurous” and someone who will “try anything once and loves pushing the boundaries”. She tells that he started travelling the world at 6 months old and has explored Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai, Germany, France, Wales, England, Netherlands and Italy. Cooper just celebrated his 11th Birthday by visiting Uluru and seeing this amazing rock for the first time.
For Cooper, giving back to the community is also important. For example, in 2010 Cooper raised $15,000 for New Hope Cambodia – this helped them to build a kindergarten and he has visited twice to meet all the kids who attend it.
Cooper’s next venture is with Source Kids Magazine where he will write a column about travel 4 times a year. He has submitted his first one with the topic of street food across Asia.
We are proud that Cooper has agreed to become our newest Ad Inclusion Ambassador and will be helping us to represent our message calling for equal representation of people with disability in advertising, media and beyond.
Watch Cooper Smith interviewed on National Nine News:
[Photos © Kmart Australia except banner photo and beach photo © Bron Leeks ]