In the spotlight of British pride, Ellie Simmonds, a celebrated Paralympic swimmer turned beloved Strictly contestant and TV presenter, reflects on her journey. Retired for two years, Ellie shares her triumphs from winning gold at Beijing 2008 to dancing on Strictly. Now, embracing a new life, she dives into documentaries, adoption revelations, and passion projects. Ellie opens up about navigating finding shoes and costumes that fit, her future aspirations, style preferences, and the challenges of shopping for short stature. Through her platform, Ellie sends a powerful message of confidence and individuality, urging the fashion industry to embrace diversity and redefine beauty standards. Founder of DEWEY, Chamiah, had the honour to sit down with Ellie to learn more about her journey, in the hopes to uplift and inspire other short stature people, and highlight just how difficult Fashion can be for the community.
Chamiah: You are absolutely the pride of Britain right now, from one of the most highly esteemed Paralympic swimmers, to a most-loved Strictly contestant, and TV presenter; you don’t need me to tell you how loved you are. I know that you are especially respected amongst swimmers, especially those who share your condition: but for anyone who has been living under a rock and doesn’t know you, please introduce yourself in whatever way feels most authentic to you…
Ellie: Thank you ever so much for this lovely little introduction. I've been retired from the sport of swimming for coming up to 2 years now and those 2 years since retiring have been jam packed with so many amazing opportunities but I love talking about my one of my biggest passion which is swimming and in my career I went to 4 paralympic games the first of those being in Beijing in 2008 at the age of 13 where I won 2 Gold Medals, I was the youngest member on the team and one of the youngest to get 2 Golds. 4 years later I went to London 2012 which I must say where my favourite games as being a home games there was much excitement with the build-up and during the whole summer, it was also amazing to be part of a games that changed the perception of disabled athletes and a catalyst for a change of perception for people living with a disability in the UK. Those games also were a massive change for me with media attention. I came away from those games with 4 medals, 2 Golds, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze. It was lovely to have the whole collection. 4 years later I went to my 3rd games in Rio and came away with 1 Gold and 1 Bronze, I was the first S6 swimmer to break under the 3minute barrier for the 200IM so it's lovely to be able to hold that. Then 5 years later due to covid I went to my last games in Tokyo 2021 knowing that was my last games and retired on a high seeing the amazing success that Maisie had knowing that the British S6 category was will at the best. So that was my highlights as a swimmer but now this other life, I'm very proud to have done two documentaries'. One on the BBC, ‘A World Without Dwarfism’ and one on ITV, ‘Finding my Secret Family’. I've also had the amazing opportunity to learn how to dance on Strictly Come Dancing - be fake tanned, the hair, the makeup was just my favourite thing!!
Ellie Simmonds who is 28 year old woman with dwarfism who has blonde wavy hair with blue eyes and a fair complexion. She is smiling. She wears a red and blue speedo swimsuit.
Your accomplishments are so immense, and to be part of the 2012 games, which as you say, had such a profound effect on disability representation in sport, must have been so joyous for you. Now I know that everyone asks you about Strictly, but we absolutely have to talk about it, how did it feel knowing you were going to be the first person of short stature to dance on one of the UK’s biggest dance competitions?!
I love when people ask about strictly. It was an absolute honour. I know what representation in the media can do and how it can change people's lives. To have that amazing opportunity was just incredible. So many people were asking how me and Nikita were going to do it as he's never danced with someone with dwarfism before and I've never danced like that so it was new to us both. But we did it and hopefully we showed that anyone if they have dwarfism or a disability you can dance but even trying something new and adapt as yes it didn't look like a traditional hold but we still did it and had fun doing it!
Ellie Simmonds who is 28 year old woman with dwarfism who has blonde wavy hair with blue eyes and a fair complexion. She is smiling. She wears a blue sparkly dress.
You absolutely did! How has the Strictly experience changed/enhanced your life since you stopped touring?
Strictly and doing the tour after the show was the most amazing experience ever. I've got a new found love for dancing and it's also given me the confidence to try new things that would never have done before. Also, the work opportunities have increased due to the scale of media on the show.
What was it like to navigate the shoes and costumes!? As you know because I told you after the show, I tried SO hard to get in touch with the team to offer my hand and experience in designing clothing for people with Achondroplasia, but alas, that didn’t come to fruition; so I’d love to know what that was actually like from your point of view?
Vicky Gill and the team where just out of this world, they are so talented. It was lovely to have my say in costumes and for them to chat with what I like and dislikes and make things bespoke for me. The shoes were all made to measure as well so just all fitted perfectly. Even with the dancing blisters which you cannot stop!!! I loved all my looks.
Ellie Simmonds who is 28 year old woman with dwarfism who has blonde wavy hair with blue eyes and a fair complexion. She is smiling holding a glass of Prosecco. She wears a blue leopard print dress.
That’s such a relief to know, I had visions of you struggling, I’m glad you had that support. Recently, you shared your story of adoption on your ITV documentary ‘Ellie Simmonds: My Secret Family’, how has the response to that been since? I imagine it feels like a huge weight lifted off your shoulders to make that story public too?
The response since opening up and talking about my story has been more than I ever thought. It's been so wonderful since talking about it so many people have come to chat to me saying either they are adopted or they know someone. To have people open up on the subject is something I'm really proud of and to give more recognition to family's who adopt and foster is something I wanted and to see it happen is just amazing. I've always wanted to talk about my adoption but it was never the right time as during my swimming career I didn't want any distractions and to fully focus on my swimming. But since retiring I've had the time and space. I always wanted to find out more about myself and this was just the right time to do it.
Ellie Simmonds who is 28 year old woman with dwarfism who has blonde wavy hair with blue eyes and a fair complexion. She is smiling. She wears a black sparkly dress.
I must say, I watched the documentary when it aired and it was a rollercoaster of emotion, but it was so good! As a retired Paralympian, what do you see your future looking like now? I’ve seen some amazing initiatives that you’re involved in, such as the Sure Breaking Limits Campaign, and most recently, the Sheba Hope Grows Collective; what is inspiring you now?
When you're an athlete you always think and wonder where your future will go after retiring from the sport but I never thought it'll have this journey. It's hard sometimes when you make that decision and all I've known is swimming and that's my identity. But to have had these amazing opportunities since hanging up the goggles is out of this world. I'm loving at the moment that every day is different whether it's the campaigns you mention about, doing tv shows, commentating on sport or doing talks.- I'm enjoying them all. I would love to be in a kids tv show that's my dream and to continue travelling which is a massive passion of mine. Also, highlight ocean conversation is a big, big passion. But you never know what the future holds!
Ellie Simmonds who is 28 year old woman with dwarfism who has blonde wavy hair with blue eyes and a fair complexion. She is smiling. She wears an emerald green velvet dress.
It’s an exciting time! Now of course we have to touch on fashion, so how would you describe your personal style?
I would describe my style as simple, maybe clean and crisp, elegant. It's hard to describe myself. I'm into fashion and loving both dressing down casually but then also dressing up for tv events and red carpets.
Do you have any style icons and inspirations that you look up to?
I love all women's fashion; I love Lucy Sleight and Meryl Williams fashion; they are amazing to follow on socials for ideas and inspiration. I message them a bit asking where they got their clothes from and for great everyday looks but also for fashion evening wear, they look amazing. I also celeb wise like Hailey Biebers looks both fashion and the simple makeup and hair look.
Ellie Simmonds‘ style inspirations: Lucy Sleight and Meryl Williams, two fair skinned short stature women, and Hailey Baldwin, a fair skin supermodel. A collage of all three of them.
Lucy and Meryl are the best! So, while petite ranges exist everywhere now, we know that they tend to be for those 5ft-5’4”, have you found any brands or garments you can’t live without?
I shop a lot at Zara Kids and H&M Kids, even though there some clothes there that kiddish there's bits you can find that are not and I think fashionable. It can fit quite well size wise, like the petite ranges but still a lot of the clothes with length of arms and legs still need to be altered. I'm into wearing jumpsuits a lot at the moment as I find you can dress up and down, quite versatile. They also cover the areas of the body that I want to hide!!
Lots of little people shop there too. What challenges do you commonly encounter when shopping for clothing, and how does DEWEY address those challenges / what could we do better?
Growing up, it used to be jeans I found was a pain to shop for as skinny jeans were in style and I wanted them to be super skinny and fit around my legs without gaping, but with the shape of our legs they always used to gape which always got to me. It's great now that baggy jeans and trousers are in style as that fits better with my leg type. Shoes were an issue as well, as having smaller feet, the only shoes available where kids shoes with butterflies, light ups and sparkles. I didn't want that. I think shoes are getting better and there's more shoes in the fashion/sports brands that are stylish but also in our size.
One thing that DEWEY does well is creating clothes that are already designed for our body size, the price of sending clothes to get altered all the time adds up, on top of already the clothes purchase and the time it takes for our clothes to get altered even if we need it the next day we have to really think about it. Instead of a non-disabled person can just get clothes ready to wear.
That’s exactly why we do what we do! There is so little amount of high-profile role models in this space, what message do you hope to send to other shorter stature people through your platform?
I don't see myself as a fashion stylist but I hope what I can send to other people of short statue or the disable community is to always wear what makes you feel comfortable and happy. When you are wearing something, you are comfortable in the confidence and your personality shines through.
Ellie Simmonds who is 28 year old woman with dwarfism who has blonde wavy hair with blue eyes and a fair complexion. She is smiling. She wears a dark teal jumpsuit.
I absolutely agree. What should fashion brands be considering more in todays social climate?
I think fashion brands should be considering how diverse and differently shaped body types are. Not everyone is 6ft and size 6. To represent and show different disabilities in shops would be amazing to see. And to create more of a range of heels in the lower sizes (that's my personal thing!!).
Ellie Simmonds who is 28 year old woman with dwarfism who has blonde wavy hair with blue eyes and a fair complexion. She is sat on a chair with a big cheesy grin on her face. She wears a white tshirt with black jeans.
I know you have a pair of our KITTEN heels now, and we’re excited to expand this range. And lastly, what would you like to see next in the fashion industry?
I think my last answer answered this one, to show diversity and disability and a variety in sizes. Better representation of clothes/fashion to represent society.
Ellie’s journey from Paralympic triumphs to the glamour of Strictly and beyond is nothing short of inspiring. Retiring from swimming hasn't dimmed her sparkle; instead, she embraced the opportunities presented to her. Her courage in sharing personal stories, be it through documentaries or dance, reflects a commitment to breaking barriers. She has become a beacon for shorter stature individuals, inspiring them to embrace comfort and confidence.
In the ever-evolving fashion industry, Ellie’s call for better representation and inclusivity echoes a collective desire for a more diverse and accepting world. We Thank Ellie, for being a trailblazer, proving that height is no barrier to success and style. Here's to a future where fashion truly reflects the diversity of our society.
Ellie reminds us of why creating clothing and shoes for short stature people is so important, and that’s why, at DEWEY,
‘Our Mission is to create a world where short stature is not an obstacle but a source of pride. Nurturing sustainable communities, we empower individuals under 5ft with ethical fashion that celebrates their unique identity and encourages self expression.’