Fashion + Disability

How Adaptive Fashion Can Assist People with Disabilities

In order to help cater to people with disabilities, brands can incorporate adaptive design into their clothes. There are a wide variety of disabilities whether that be physical disabilities or impairments which can make accessing mainstream fashion impossible for a huge percentage of the population. 21% of people in the United Kingdom are reported to have a disability, which is around 14.1 million people. This is a huge proportion of the population who are not catered to by the majority of fashion brands. 

There are a lot of things brands can do to try to help people with disabilities and there are two main issues that influence the poor relationship between fashion and physical disabilities. First is the design of clothing, which can totally exclude people with disabilities. Second, is the representation of disabled persons within fashion adverts and shows. By addressing these issues brands can create clothing people with disabilities can wear, and also assist in empowering and including this discriminated group.

Brands We Can Learn From

Not every brand is excluding those with disabilities. There are a number of adaptive design brands who do cater specifically to persons with disabilities. Alongside this, there are also a rising number of mainstream fashion brands who are taking inspiration and incorporating adaptive design features into their clothes. Some huge names have become more involved in adaptive design, such as Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, and ASOS. 

Brands becoming more involved in the industry are important for a variety of reasons. Having giants of fashion such as Nike and Tommy Hilfiger become involved in catering for disabilities brings the relationship between fashion and disabled persons into more light. This in turn gets people to ask the bigger questions, such as why aren’t people with disabilities represented in fashion?

Vogue Business estimated that the global market for adaptive fashion by 2026 will be valued at nearly $400 billion. It is a huge market with a lot of possibility, so why would a business not want to become involved?

Adaptive Fashion to Inspire

There are a number of ways adaptive design can be incorporated into everyday fashion. Looking at the Tommy Adaptive line, we see four ways they cater to the disabled audience. First is simply through representation. Every model of the line is an individual with a disability. The line feels more inclusive. Next, is through ease of movement; the clothes feature fabrics and features which put comfort and ease first. Another feature of Tommy Adaptive is easy closures. These allow all persons to be able to fasten their clothing despite any physical impairments. Lastly, they also cater to wheelchair users through their seated wear. 

Looking at Nike, they have been aiming to revolutionise footwear for disabled persons via FlyEase. They have brought in a variety of systems which make footwear more accessible and have applied this to a variety of their popular lines such as Air Max and Jordan. The innovations include flexible heels to make it easier to step into shoes, zips across high-top shoes, and fold and lock system with a wraparound strap. 

These design features may be innovation currently, but hopefully soon they will become common features of a variety of clothing items.

Celebrities and Figures Paving the Way in Adaptive Fashion

Because disabilities are not widely represented in fashion, it is often important to look at individuals making an impact. As touched upon before, Tommy Hilfiger has been an important figure. Hilfiger was influenced by having children with special needs, and this led him to design a solution. The items produced are of the same quality as you would see in the Tommy Hilfiger main line.

Another individual of vital importance has been Selma Blair. After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2018, the actress found herself in a position which would allow her to tackle some issues facing disabled persons every day. Noticing a ‘lack of stylish clothing’, Blair wanted to use her status as a way to spread awareness. Attending awards shows regularly, her attire takes on an extra level of style as she coordinates wonderful outfits with a matching cane. She is an excellent example of individual representation and hopefully will continue to inspire and bring attention to disabled fashion. 

What Next?

A study by charity Leonard Cheshire found that 96% of disabled persons believed there was not enough representation of disability in fashion. This is really a big issue. It is great to see brands becoming more involved in catering to those with disabilities, but there needs to be more done.

In terms of where to go from here, there are a number of steps we should take. The main issues are in the representation and access of adaptive fashion. We should start by tackling these issues via greater inclusion of disabled models in shows and advertisements and by wider incorporation of adaptive designs. 

You can read more about fashion and disability here.

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