The fashion industry has made noticeable progress with its level of diversity but the disabled market is still significantly underrepresented. From catwalk shows to marketing campaigns to shopping on the high-street, disabled consumers are often forgotten, despite the fact they want to be just as stylish as the rest of us.
Over 13.9 million people are disabled in the UK alone, of which many have significant spending power. So why have nearly all fashion brands chosen to ignore this huge sector of the market? With consumers becoming more woke and only aligning with brands that offer diversity and inclusivity, adaptive clothing could soon be crucial to a brand’s success.
The brands setting the bar for adaptive clothing
Some companies however, have managed to open their eyes to the needs of disabled customers. Tommy Hilfiger’s range being the first to the mainstream market in 2017, which has continued to expand each year. Named Tommy Adaptive, the clothing showcases advanced design features including single handed zips, magnetic buttons and adjustable trouser widths, without ignoring trends and style. This has made dressing easier, yet just as fashionable, for those that are disabled. Tommy Hilfiger explained ‘the collection’s aim was to deliver the same quality, the same fabric and the same design as they offer everyone else, with the added benefit of discreet, truly functional modifications that make getting dressed easier and allow both children and adults with disabilities to have independence and feel great about themselves’.
Since Tommy Hilfiger paved the way in adaptive clothing, brands such as ASOS and Nike have introduced similar products for their disabled customers. ASOS collaborated with paralympic athlete, Chloe Ball-Hopkins and designed a waterproof festival jumpsuit suitable for wheelchair users. Her aim was to not design clothing specific for disabled people but to make ASOS clothes accessible and wearable for the disabled. For Nike, the catalyst was a letter from a boy with cerebral palsy who dreamed of being able to tie his own laces. They developed the FlyEase shoe that can be tied with one hand – a zip at the back of the shoe connects to cables that tighten the laces.
Diversity and inclusivity will soon be vital to a brand’s success
It should be recognised that designing for disabled customers is very complex. The designs often need medical input in order for them to be fit for purpose. Whilst this may seem like more effort than it’s worth, the adaptive clothing market is predicted to be worth over $400 million by 2026. The market is also significantly unsaturated at present, therefore it’s clear to say that brands would be missing a huge opportunity if they didn’t capitalise on this forgotten customer. Likewise, the future fashion customer, disabled or not, is demanding inclusivity and diversity from all brands whether it is fast fashion or premium. Therefore it is vital that all brands start to include more inclusive clothing ranges, such as adaptive clothing, to avoid criticism and losing out on market share.
The future of adapative fashion
Despite there being some advancement in fashion catering for the disabled market, the UK high street has a long way to go. Being disabled doesn’t discriminate; working women and men, celebrities, athletes along with many other professions, all need clothing that’s accessible and wearable for various occasions. Currently, only casualwear is available but there is still a marketplace for adaptable occasionwear, workwear, sportswear and many more. Premium brands, designers, sports brands and more high-street affordable brands should start meeting the unmet demand for this lucrative market.
Let’s not forget though, that representation is conjointly important as product. In order for disabled customers to shop with a brand, they need to feel represented. This includes marketing material, models used on websites, catwalks and across social media platforms. Without representation and product working in conjunction with each other, the adaptive clothing a brand launches is likely to fail.
The conversation around adaptive clothing has only just begun. Brands are only just waking up to the realisation that over 13.9 million disabled people don’t just want to shop at places designed specific to them. In order to stay relevant and up-to-date with increasingly woke consumers, brands must not forget disabled consumers.