Laurie and Debbie say:
Niamh Ní Hoireabhaird has an article in the Women’s Media Center on women designers “transforming fashion for people with disabilities.” The article starts by framing adaptive fashion:
Adaptive clothing is designed specifically with people with disabilities in mind. Adaptive clothes are intended to give freedom and comfort to the people who wear them, but many of the clothes that were offered were not stylish, and they prioritized function over fashion.
But why not both function and fashion? In recent years, along with greater visibility and advocacy by people with disabilities has come a growing awareness in the fashion world.
Stylish adaptive wear is really exciting; the world is full of disabled people who care about style and look, and who want the luxury that able-bodied people have: to think about fabric and cut, to get clothing which makes them stand out in a crowd, or blend in to a particular setting. The world is even more full, however, of disabled people who want comfortable nice-looking well-made clothing that hopefully doesn’t cost an enormous amount (just think about the phrase “cost an arm and a leg” in this context), that they can find, in their size, ideally some place local where they can try things on and make choices.
We’ve been doing this work a long time, and we remember when fat women’s clothing was thin on the ground, available either from fairly high-end, fairly expensive boutique mail-order companies who cared about hiring fat models and making good clothing, or from mass-produced national brands which favored polyester fabrics, great big flowers, and skinny models in their catalogues.
So in one sense we know that things can change: we now live in a world where most fat women, even very fat women, can find clothes in their size, in a variety of styles and colors, at a wide price range. If you live in or near a big city, or a big suburban mall, you can probably find them in relatively easy driving range.
The baseline for adaptive clothing is a lot worse than it was for fat people’s clothing. Fat women could always wear something more or less in their size; people with disabilities requiring different clothing styles often can find almost nothing, no section of the store that imagines they might have an artificial limb, a wheelchair which tears up the cuffs of their pants, or an ostomy bag that only a specially designed shirt could conceal. They wind up either buying from tiny niche providers with limited selections and the high prices caused by their size, or buying off the shelf and modifying at home: hemming, cutting off a trouser leg or shirt sleeve, wishing they knew someone who knew how to make darts around a differently shaped back.
They’re probably also wishing that the photographs of adaptive fashion weren’t so limited to people who would be traditionally attractive if they didn’t have visible disabilities–we are. However, we have yet to see that change for fat women, and it’s unlikely to change for disabled people either.
Izzy Camilleri, one of the featured designers in the WMC article, has devoted a lot of time to thinking about wheelchair-appropriate clothing.
This is not an area that should be entered into lightly, without research, says Camilleri, explaining how ill-fitting or badly designed clothing can be detrimental to the comfort of people with disabilities. For example, a pair of pants with inappropriately placed seams or pockets could cause pressure sores for wheelchair users. …
Unlike the majority of standard trousers and pants, the back of [Camilleri’s company’s] Game Changer Pant is designed to be pocketless and seamless, features that work to prevent harmful pressure sores from forming.
Smea Gedik, founder of a German adaptive fashion company, has done a lot of work with clothing for little people.
Gedik and her team spent years constructing an inclusive size chart to properly cater to their customers and help to communicate their needs.
Gedik explains that it was important for her to include people with disabilities in every step of the process. By including people with disabilities in the research, design, and even the modeling of her clothing, Gedik ensures that she accurately creates what the consumers want.
The growth of adaptive fashion is simultaneously exciting, frustrating, and hopeful. It’s exciting because the work is being done, and some customers are reaping the rewards. It’s frustrating because only some customers have access to the clothes.
The fashion industry is slowly but surely embracing adaptive clothing, but it seems most retailers are not following suit. Owners and executives of many larger brands lack the personal experience of living with a disability, and they are hesitant to even hire people with disabilities, explains [adaptive fashion designer Victoria] Jenkins. “They don’t hire people with disabilities, so they don’t see the scale of the issue, nor do they know how to engage with us,” says Jenkins, going on to explain that she thinks this is due, in part, to the assumption that it would cost too much to make adaptive clothing and there would be no net return.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. According to Statista, an online platform that specializes in market and consumer data, the global adaptive clothing market was at $271.88 billion in 2019, and growth is projected to $348.81 billion by 2024.
And that’s why it’s hopeful. We’ve seen it happen with fat clothing, and there’s money in it. The careful, high-end work of Jenkins, Gedik, and Camilleri will — not soon enough — make its way into the price ranges of a lot more people, and probably into a reasonable selection of local stores at the same time.
Debbie is no longer active on Twitter. Follow her on Mastodon.
Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.