Deaf Role Model of the Month: Luke Christian

Each month we invite an inspirational or outstanding deaf role model to share their story. This can be from what they’ve learnt, to what they wish they’d have known as well as their best deaf tips.

Our role model this month is Luke Christian, founder of fashion brand DEAF IDENTITY. You may recognise his fantastic designs, or followed his campaigning for the deaf and LGBTQI+ communities, but here you can find out more about his journey. Read his story below.

1. Please tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Luke Christian, I am deaf and I am based in Leeds, UK. I have won various awards throughout my career with a recent one from Attitude for being named as one of their ‘LGBTQ+ Community Heroes’ for the work I do with my online fashion brand; DEAF IDENTITY and for speaking out on issues I have faced around being a deaf, gay man.

2. Did you grow up in the Deaf Community or come to it later in life?

I was born deaf and it is genetic within my family such as my Mum, sister, uncle, cousin, Grandma, Grandad, and so on spanning back at least 8 generations. My parents brought me and my sister up as ‘oral’ as they didn’t have access to the deaf community so my sister and I went to mainstream hearing schools until I then left during year 9 to a deaf boarding school: Mary Hare.

3. What was your experience of education and higher education as a deaf person?

I went to Mary Hare from year 9 to year 11 and found it difficult because I didn’t know BSL as I wasn’t brought up with it nor did I know anybody who used it so was treated as though I wasn’t ‘deaf’ enough and always struggled with my deaf identity in not knowing which world I fitted into which is why I am passionate now about showing that there is no right or wrong way of being deaf. After Mary Hare, I went to college at 16 to study Art & Design specialising in Graphics and then a further 3 years after I had passed that course, I went back to college and studied Beauty Therapy focusing more on Male Grooming.

4. You’re an entrepreneur involved in the fashion industry – what first drew you to work in fashion?

I have loved fashion ever since I was a young child and always told my friends and family I wanted to be a fashion designer! Little did I know just how much that dream I had would become reality later on… I love fashion because of how it can instil confidence in people and how it can make them feel good and strong about themselves which is what I am to do with DEAF IDENTITY in the clothes I design.

5. After working in major retailers like Oxfam and Next, you decided to set up your own fashion brand and company, Deaf Identity. Did you know much about business before you set it up? Did you encounter any challenges along the way?

I took redundancy from Next in May 2019 after the company went under a big restructuring and I felt at the time, this was my ‘get out’ card. Originally I wanted to become a full time blogger as I had already set up which was a Male Grooming blog using my knowledge and tips from my Beauty course a few years prior. Around 2 weeks into the redundancy I was so bored… And I realised I needed something else in my life so I thought why not set up my own business where I mix my love of fashion whilst raising deaf awareness at the same time? I had nothing to lose so I just went for it! I had no business training, no qualifications and I had no interest in business either but I just wrote everything down, step by step and attended loads of seminars and workshops around business through Leeds City Council where I gained knowledge and in September 2019, launched DEAF IDENTITY! I have often said that when you’re in a place where you have nothing to lose, it can actually be the best place to be because it sharpens your mindset and there is nothing holding you back which allows you to go for your dreams.

6. What inspired you to set up Deaf Identity?

It was my Mum who inspired me as she worked in a school with deaf children and it was around Deaf Awareness Week and she said ‘I wish I had something to wear to show off being deaf and to celebrate it! I’ve looked online and it’s all rubbish…’ Something inside me clicked and I kept noticing on social media other businesses where you could personalise what you want with special embroidery etc and I then had an idea of creating something along those lines but primarily deaf-focused.

7. Recently you released a Pride collection, and you’ve previously teamed up with deaf LGBTQI+ charity Deaf Rainbow UK. Why is it important to you to support these causes?

It is important for me to work with other deaf charities and to support their work/causes because the more that the deaf community can come together, the stronger we are in fighting for our needs and ultimately, raising deaf awareness and to inspire many others out there who may be struggling or not feel as though they have anyone to look up to.

8. Deaf Identity has gone from strength to strength, including a partnership with Comic Relief. Did you envision success so quickly when you started? Have there been any challenges?

DEAF IDENTITY was only ever meant to be a side hustle whilst I figured out what I wanted to do in life during the redundancy period but it became an overnight success instantly! I’ll never forget when my Mum asked me how many orders would you like on ‘opening night’? And I said I’d be happy with 3. I ended up receiving 22. It was then that I realised I’d created something special and I knew this is what I was supposed to do. Something that has been challenging for me is to keep the momentum going. I work alone and can often feel overwhelmed at times trying to do a 10 person job just by myself but I’m learning to take breaks and be kinder to myself. It’s a work in progress!

9. It takes a lot of bravery to start your own business and become an entrepreneur. What advice would you give to a young deaf person who is looking to do just that?

My advice would be to do as much research as you can and don’t give up when it gets hard. There will always be hard moments and you can often find yourself asking ‘why should I bother?’ but always keep going and remind yourself of why you want to do it! I would also say to ‘do it, then talk about it’ because if you talk about what you want to do with people, you open yourself up to their opinions and criticism and sometimes when there are too many opinions, it takes you away from your dreams and goals. Only tell people you trust, and then talk about it.

10. Who inspires you and why? (In the deaf community or otherwise)

I have been inspired by Joe Wicks in how he created something that helped others by teaching them how to become fit via online workouts etc and have also been inspired recently by Wim Hof in how he has shown the benefits of ‘cold exposure therapy’ and again, by helping people out there with their health. For me, I have found them inspirational because they too are trying to inspire and help others out there within their own communities, very similar to what I am currently doing. (Trying to anyway!) I am always drawn to people wanting to help others and to create awareness for the greater good and benefits of others.

11. What ways do you think hearing people can be allies to the deaf community? Any DOs and DON’Ts?

Always listen to deaf people, don’t speak for us, speak with us. We are the ones with lived experiences so only we can share our stories. Another tip I have is to just try! Often when I have met a new person and they have discovered I’m deaf, I can see them clamming up slightly and panic as they’re not sure how to communicate or act around me, but just relax and always ask what is that deaf person’s preferred method of communication. Better to try than not at all!

12. 3 top tips for deaf people? (e.g. everyday life/learning/communicating/ socialising/travelling etc.)

1. Take what society sees as a disadvantage and turn it into your advantage.
2. Travel as and when you can because money can return, time doesn’t.
3. Be kind to others who may live their life differently to you.

To read more inspirational role model interviews, take a look here. If you would like to be an ally to the deaf community and learn sign language, check out our courses here.

Looking for more support? We’ve made it our mission to improve the lives of deaf people everywhere. Check out Deaf Unity’s projects to find out what we can do for you. If you’d like to get in touch, contact us here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *