Image Source: Courtesy of Slick Chicks / Roohi Photography
âThe first thing we do these days is put on our underwear and we don’t put them all on one leg at a time,â said Helya Mohammadian, founder and CEO of the adaptive underwear brand. smooth chicks, said POPSUGAR. “People have different experiences and some people need help to change.” Of course, there are a handful of brands offering tailored collections or clothing designed to meet the needs and abilities of people with varying degrees of disability: there’s Nike, which produced the very first hands-free sneaker, Go FlyEase, which allows wearers to slip their feet in without a zipper, tie or Velcro closed; ASOS created the first wheelchair-friendly suit in 2018; and Target and Tommy Hilfiger sell tailored clothing. But when one in four American adults has a disability, and diversity and inclusion efforts are at an all time high – why aren’t there more fashion brands that cater to this important population? We spoke to three adaptive fashion designers who design with this approach since their inception to gather more insight into the importance of adaptive fashion and the potential obstacles brands face in becoming adaptive.
What is adaptive fashion?
Adaptive fashion began in the 1980s when caregivers realized the need for easy-to-wear clothing for loved ones with disabilities. Some manufacturers and distributors have started making clothes for this community based purely on function, but with the help of fashion designers like Mindy Scheier and Tommy Hilfiger in 2014 and 2015, respectively, these offerings began to incorporate elements of style and functionality. This can mean different types of fasteners, rubber bands and openings for easy access to ostomies, catheters, lines or for those who use a wheelchair.
Image Source: Courtesy of Unhidden
For sensory concerns, designers are investing in soft, seamless fabrics and moisture-wicking fabrics to prevent infections. At the start of a design, Mohammadian asks, âDoes this bridge the gap between fashion and function? Is it elegant? Would that give someone dignity and independence while still making them feel sexy and confident? in order to maintain integrity and empathy in the right clothing.
TO Powerful Well, an adaptive medical accessories and clothing company, adaptive fashion also includes the experience of buyers on their site. For this reason, all of their products are FSA (Flexible Savings Account) and HSA (Health Savings Account) accessible. âIt helps patients financially because we know they face so many other health and wellness costs,â said Emily Levy, co-founder and brand director at Mighty Well.
“[Adaptive fashion] can mean the difference between feeling comfortable and like yourself, with worms being forced to dress in a way that does not express its own taste “
While you don’t need to be disabled to design an adaptive collection, Victoria Jenkins, founder and CEO of the fashion brand, Not masked believes that the best adaptive designers have a close relationship with disability that enables them to create these meaningful garments. This means that brands that do it well incorporate models with lived experiences with different healthcare challenges, spend time with the disability community to get clarity on their clothing concerns, and most importantly, test. the correctness of the community before making a product. âIt is extremely important to Mighty Well that patients with lived experience are part of the design and feedback process. So it’s not just the way the product is designed, it includes the experience of how the product is brought to market, âLevy agrees.
Why aren’t more fashion brands designing responsive collections?
“[Adaptive fashion] can mean the difference between feeling comfortable and like yourself, with worms being forced to dress in a way that doesn’t express your own taste, âJenkins told POPSUGAR. “We deny every person with a disability the basic human right to wear clothes, and in an age where what we look like is so tied to how we are viewed, the mental toll can be severe.”
Image source: Courtesy of Mighty Well
The root cause, according to Jenkins and Mohammadian, is that companies don’t involve people with disabilities in the process. “If fashion companies don’t hire people with disabilities, which I’m sorry to say is common, then they have no day-to-day view of the impact this has had and therefore no motivation. for change, âJenkins shares. âHiring an occasional disabled model is a start, but there is still a long way to go. Failure to invite the targeted client into this process for comments and adjustments suggests that desires for inclusiveness may be performative and not genuine.
Adaptive mode needs to be standardized
When it comes to the generalization of adaptive fashion, all of our experts are concerned that financial commitments prevent fashion designers from creating with this approach to design. “If, as a start-up, I can make suitable clothing. A bigger brand, with a larger supply chain and access to trims much cheaper than me, I certainly can. This standard excuse is insufficient, âsays Jenkins.
Thanks to the lack of awareness presented in the media and agencies to the disability community, there are so many misconceptions and bad education around people with disabilities. Disability advocates believe that fashion houses have the opportunity and the responsibility to change the narrative by making people with disabilities visible. The three fashion designers hope that brands will look into their inclusion policy and decide to what extent disability is represented within their own businesses. âIf they don’t practice what they preach from the inside out, they’ll have a hard time meaningfully engaging outside of their business,â Jenkins shares.
Case in point: Buying clothes can be a challenge for anyone who does not fall within the right size standard. The disability community has 490 billion dollars of purchasing power in the United States alone, not responding to this sector is not only exclusionary, but it is not a smart business decision either.