Meet the Entrepreneur: Luke Christian, DEAF IDENTITY
Luke Christian is making waves as a deaf designer who imbues his clothes with empowering messages of self-expression
‘I’m based in Harrogate and have lived here all my life, although I’ve recently moved into my own business unit in central Leeds,’ says Luke. ‘I am 29 and went to a “hearing/mainstream” school from year seven to year nine, when I went to a “deaf boarding” school. I was the only deaf person within the hearing school so I found it incredibly difficult to fit in, and the people around me thought it was best to try and see if being around deaf peers would help.’
Luke has had a love of fashion since he was young boy, starting his journey in retail at Oxfam when he was 19, and then eventually starting a career at Next, until he was made redundant at the age of 26. It’s clear that Luke has always wanted to make a life for himself in fashion.
‘I’ve always loved clothes and how they can inspire and instil confidence in you. I remember looking at an image of Kate Moss online in a long red gown and being transfixed for ages,’ Luke reflects.
'When I was made redundant, I initially wanted to use that opportunity to become a full time blogger,’ he continues. ‘However, I realised this may not be sustainable in the long run and about two or three weeks into my redundancy I came up with “DEAF IDENTITY”.’
DEAF IDENTITY designs a wide range of apparel and Luke allows customers to express themselves by offering inventive levels of personalisation to customers – such as embroidery of sign language that can be changed to spell different words.
DEAF IDENTITY’s range of clothing and accessories includes T-shirts, sweaters, hoodies (both for adults and kids), badges, caps, bags, beanies and lanyards. ‘The badges were born out of the pandemic as a visual aid to the public to show them that we do struggle, especially with face coverings and masks! The badges have become best-selling and have helped so many deaf people through the pandemic which has been incredible to witness,’ Luke explains.
‘Most of the clothing can be personalised in different colours, inks and embroidery threads – you can personalise your very own DEAF IDENTITY item in British Sign Language!’
Luke designs everything himself, with an illustrator who helps tweak and bring his designs to life. This one man band doesn’t just spread deaf awareness through his clothing range, he also actively contributes to other minority communities that have experienced stigma growing up.
‘Something I’m proud of is being able to partner with deaf charities,’ Luke continues. ‘I’ve worked with SignHealth several times where a percentage of our Christmas sales have been donated to them so they can carry out their vital work with deaf people; and for last year’s Pride Month I worked with DEAF RAINBOW UK where I designed special Pride clothing to raise money for their charity.’
Luke feels as though he is often perceived negatively for being both gay and deaf, as it’s sometimes seen as “imperfect” and a double negative. Contributing to these charities is a way for Luke to educate others about his and so many other’s lived experience. ‘It’s so important to me to be able to partner up and work with other deaf charities and organisations. If I can raise funds or help in any way I can through my brand, then naturally I will.’
So far Luke has received tremendous support. He is deeply grateful for all of his fantastic deaf models, peers, and having his brand featured as a Red Nose Day artist for 2022, seeing his clothes worn by the likes of Roman Kemp and Pixie Lott. With more success undoubtedly on the horizon, Luke leaves some parting advice on how we can all support deaf identities to flourish.
‘When coming across somebody who is deaf, please don’t treat us like aliens, or panic,’ says Luke. ‘Just ask what their preferred method of communication is and work from there. It’s better to try than not try at all, and please don’t say ‘never mind’ or ‘it doesn’t matter’ if we haven’t heard or understood what’s going on!’