Fashion + Disability

Tommy Hilfiger: Innovative, Inclusive, Adaptive.

As the world moves towards inclusivity in fashion, are we overlooking disability? Fashion may be stepping in the right direction when it comes to accepting all genders, sexualities, and other differing identities. But what about the physical boundaries of wearing clothes? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) around 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Of this group 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning including the ability to dress. So why is it that not all clothes are adaptive and easy to put on for everyone?

Every morning many people wake up and dress without giving it a second thought. But, for a large proportion of the population, it can be a daily challenge to get dressed without assistance. By taking the daily routine and general accessibility of fashion for granted we neglect to accept that clothes are not inclusive. In order to ensure nobody feels excluded in society by fashion, we need to recognise the day-to-day obstacles faced by disabled persons.

Tommy Hilfiger and adaptive fashion

Tommy Hilfiger has changed the designer fashion game by creating inclusive, accessible and fashionable clothing for all. In Spring 2019 Tommy Hilfiger launched his fourth line created for people with disabilities. This followed his two other adult collections in 2018 and 2017.

However, the line originated with children’s clothing in 2016 introducing the concept of making getting dressed less of an obstacle for those who are less able. The adaptions included switching buttons out for hidden magnetic closures and fastening necklines. This collection then expanded into the first adults clothing with the Spring 2018 Tommy Adaptive line, with a campaign called ‘Independence’.

‘The stylish clothes you want, with the innovative solutions you need’

The idea of the clothing lines being ‘Independent’ and ‘Adaptive’ encompasses the exact mindset the fashion industry should have towards disabled individuals. The idea of independence suggests that these clothes prevent or reduce the need for assistance when dressing. However, it also implies a sense of independence in style. As Tommy Hilfiger’s Adaptive collections are fashionable and just as on trend as his other clothing lines. This works to bridge the gap between all types of people in order to make fashion for anyone and everyone.

Tommy Hilfiger himself says: “I learned through having children with special needs how much Tommy Adaptive was needed. Every piece is the same quality, the same fabric and the same design as we offer everyone else. The added benefit is 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.”

Mama Cax: be your own role model

The idea of independence and feeling confident in yourself is exactly what Mama Cax, the activist and model, advocated for; and this is why she was the face of the collection in 2018. Mama used her influence on social media to ‘dismantle the image of what people with disabilities should be or look like’.

Not all disabilities are visible. And the obstacles to fastening buttons and doing up zips are invisible challenges in society. But Mama worked to spread awareness of what living with a disability was really like. She faced adversity and used her experiences to inspire body positivity in others.

In November 2019 Mama wrote on an Instagram post: “The question I hate the most is “who is your role model” – never had one until I became my own role model BUT I admire strong and fierce people who use their privileges to uplift others.”

Sadly, in December 2019 Mama passed away. Her legacy will not only live on in the Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive line but in the work that she did to become her own role model and inspire other disabled individuals to have the same confidence.

The future of adaptive fashion

Tommy Hilfiger may be a trailblazer with his four adaptive fashion collections, but more is to come from other brands. And really adaptive fashion is just at the beginning of its journey. In 2019 Nike’s partnership with Handsfree Lab Inc made some significant progress by making adaptive footwear. This came about after American student with cerebral palsy wrote about his dream to independently tie his shoe laces.

So from Tommy Hilfiger’s one-handed zippers to Nike’s handsfree shoes you can step into, progression is finally being made. And the best part is that these brands are proving that disability and style are not mutually exclusive.

By Kate Cunnington

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