Fashion + Disability

Adaptive Clothing: Making Fashion Accessible for All

What we wear and how we choose to wear it for many of us is a fun decision. We make it first thing in the morning before work and again in the evening before heading out to dinner. This choice gives us the opportunity to show our true identity and when we get it right we feel confident and empowered. 

Unfortunately, this is not a fun choice to make for everyone. According to Scope, there are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK and 1 in 3 of them feel that there is a great deal of disability prejudice. This prejudice means that fashion brands have often chosen to ignore that not all of us are able-bodied and capable of dressing ourselves in the styles that can be seen on the high-street. As a result, disabled people can feel as though they have a very limited choice when it comes to fashion, taking the fun out of it.

So, what is the solution? Adaptive fashion

EveryHuman defines adaptive fashion as “specialised clothing that blends fashion and function to make getting dressed easier, pain-free, and convenient for differently-abled people.” We can empathise (as far as we can as able-bodied people) that people with disabilities want to be as independent as possible. They would like to be able to dress themselves and to have a wide range of options of clothes to choose from when doing so. Adaptive fashion makes this more possible.

According to a Guardian article published last year, 2019 had “seen a radical rethink in our understanding of how to design for disability”. It argues that the fashion industry began to make the necessary changes to make fashion accessible to all of us.

Brands that care:

Tommy Hilfiger is a brand that has committed to making more clothes that accommodate people living with disabilities. In August 2019, the brand launched it’s 70’s style collection in partnership with Zendaya. The collection, filled with fun prints and Girlboss-style suits included 10 styles with adaptive modifications. They focused on the power of the hidden zipper and the magnetic closure. 

Nike introduced an adaptive footwear line called the FlyEase to make shoe application pain-free and easy after a student in America wrote to Nike explaining his dream of  being able to tie his own shoe laces. Nike’s aim with this collection? “To create smarter and better footwear for athletes of all abilities.” The Air Max 90 FlyEase has a heel which easily bends back. The AJ1 FlyEase desconstructs at the heel, opening the shoe up fully from the surrounding strap. The Air Zoom UNVRS FlyEase has a heel which folds down while you step into it and is then secured with a wrap-around strap.

Asos have also received good press on their decision to include designs made for people who are differently-abled. An example is their collaboration with GB Paralympian Chloe Ball-Hopkins in 2018. The decision was spurred by an email sent from Chloe to the online retailer with her ideas. What made the collection more special is that Chloe modeled the designs herself for the website. The tie-dye jumpsuit has many adjustments, including a zip around the waist and cuffed ankles to encourage independent dressing. Gurls Talk took to twitter to praise Asos: “Great to see this sort of representation on the @ASOS website. Shopping is something most of us take for granted in terms of representation. Seeing disabled people in the media through campaigns, as actors, singers is so important as it challenges the stigma around disabilities.”

The financial benefit:

“The global market for clothing geared towards physically disabled people with medical issues is expected to grow from $278.9 billion in 2017 to $400 billion by 2026…” .

Vogue Business

Vogue Business has decided to look at the adaptive fashion scene as not a moral improvement to society but as a money making opportunity. They inform that although there is an added cost to brands to make adaptive adjustments to garments, that it will be financially worth it. They explain that there has been a conversation for a long time about extending the sizing of collections to be more inclusive but that this would actually cost a lot more than it would to create an adaptive line.

Now, more than ever before, we are conscious buyers and care about where we get our clothes from. If brands declare their commitment to making more designs for people with disabilities then they will be highly supported by the public. We feel good about buying from a brand that wants to do good. There is still a long way to go and a lot more brands to commit to the positive change.

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