This week is not just any week.
It’s the week that marks one of the biggest fashion events of the year. The week that many fashion brands have been preparing for. The week that fashion media, buyers and lovers will be slipping into their trendiest attire and heading into the centre of London. That’s right, it’s London Fashion Week!
The arrival of Fashion Week also presents a great opportunity to talk about fashion and disability.
As we see it, there are two main issues.
Firstly, fashionable clothes have not been traditionally designed with those with limited mobility in mind. For example, anything with buttons or zips would immediately present as a challenge to many. With over 130 million global wheelchair users, this is a significant group to exclude.
Secondly, adapted clothes for those with disabilities… let’s face it, have habitually been a bit… lacklustre. Traditional brands tend to focus on practicability rather than aesthetic appearance (something that is reflected across the whole mobility industry). This has led to a serious lack of trendy, functional clothing for the disabled community.
But is this changing?
With a new wave of fresh-faced entrepreneurs coming to the fore, this is beginning to change. Indeed, although we are not a clothing brand, creating stylish and functional products is one of our core aims here at our healthcare start-up, wheelAIR. Our CEO, Corien, has a degree in textiles. So, she designed the wheelAIR cooling backrest cushion to look top-notch and, at the same time, deliver excellent results.
But it’s not just us trying to shake things up. Now more than ever, clothing brands and student designers are creating attractive and comfortable clothes. Clothes that disabled people love to live their lives in. Also, designers increasingly employ those with disabilities to model their brands on the runway. We love it!
Therefore this blog post will cover:
4 functional fashion brands we love
The student and institutional impact on the fashion industry
How a London Fashion Week designer is changing the game by including models of all abilities
4 functional fashion brands we love
We think these innovative ‘healthware’ brands really put the fashionable into adaptable. They are rethinking society’s understanding of fashion itself with solution based design.
1) Lucy Jones – seated design
Originally from Wales, Jones won Designer of the Year in 2014 at The Parsons School of Design in New York for her beautiful collection of minimal, sophisticated clothing for wheelchair users.
“It started when a professor of mine challenged us to do something that would change the world,” Ms. Jones said to the New York Times reporter Vanessa Friedman.
Her younger cousin had weakness in one side of his body from hemiplegia. After talking to him about his clothes, she realised how difficult it was for those with limited mobility to get dressed and undressed themselves. From then on, she was determined to bring function to fashion.
Jones sheds some light on her design process on her website. She explains that normally fashion designers base their measurements and material choice on the ‘standing body’. When designing her clothes, she challenges this notion. She instead considers how things will appear on the ‘seated body’. For example, wheelchair users need tops with very truncated bodies but long arms.
She says: “It is up to designers to better the fit, practicality and comfort of our garments, and it is vital that we see the value of involving disability into all aspects of design. To that end, designers should share, design, develop and listen to the needs of all individuals.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Her efforts have been widely recognised in the industry. Among many accolades, her brand is one of six selected by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Accessories Council to take part in their inaugural Launch Pad program; her ‘seated design’ collection won Kering ‘Empowering Imagination’ 4.0 award and she was placed in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2016. Not only this, she recently created a prototype of “Seated Pantyhose” for MoMA’s second fashion exhibition named ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’
This wide-spread and esteemed recognition is more than promising for disability fashion. Jones is central in the solution-based design movement which is working to transform societal understanding of fashion’s purpose. She proves that working towards social inclusion expands the scope of true creativity and impact for the designer.
2) MagnaReady – stress free shirting
MagnaReady is a simple and brilliant solution to shirt buttons.
The concept was set into motion after the founder, Ms Horton was on the phone to her husband, Don (the assistant coach for the North Carolina state team). He was struggling to do up his shirt on the way to a football game. His symptoms from the onset of Parkinson’s meant that he had to ask one of the players to help fasten it.
Following this conversation, she searched online for ‘easily closed shirts’. And you guessed it. No luck.
Like any great entrepreneur, and with a background in children’s clothing, she started contemplating potential solutions. The magnets that secured her iPad case caught her eye. Could she insert magnets into the fabric to improve usability?!
She put her plan into fruition and now has 22 stylish, functional, magnetically infused shirts that tick all the boxes… Stylish and efficient! Aesthetically, there is virtually no difference from any other high-end shirt. They are even designed with the option to leave the top magnet unfastened for a more casual look.
In a similar way to Jones, Horton has been recognised by significant players in the industry which has really allowed her innovation to take off. She collaborated with the fashion giant Tommy Hilfiger to create children’s shirts for the mainstream adaptive clothing non-profit, Runway of Dreams.
Now, the largest shirt maker in the USA, PVH (owner Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein) create dress shirts using her magnetic technology.
Again, MagnaReady shows that functional clothes do not have to compromise on style. The support of mainstream fashion brands has helped this company improve the lives of those with disabilities.
3) Bezgraniz Couture – changing the world of fashion
This Russian brand’s core focus is to change the perception of disability fashion, or as they call it ‘rebrand disability’. Founders Tobias Reisner and Yanina Urusova started the brand to inspire a new attitude about the human body. They believe that the mainstream fashion brands will continue to overlook disabled people unless society’s perception of beauty and disability advances.
In 2014, they developed their first fashion collection dedicated to adaptive clothing to ever show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Russia. They continue to develop their collections now for people of all abilities.
Alongside their fashion business, they have been developing educational projects in the form of art, educational forums, fashion shows and innovative workshops designed to break down beauty perception barriers. A notable, award-winning art project they pioneered was Acropolis. This combines the classical spirit of ancient sculpture with the bodies of disabled models, cleverly challenging society’s historical relationship with beauty. They are also working with institutions internationally to make adaptive design part of the core curriculum.
4) Sophie Neff – inclusive knits
For her Fashion Identity Masters project at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, Sophie designed an accessible, functional knitwear line, focusing on contemporary design as well as a variety of user needs. She has commented, “To reflect diversity in our society, fashion should deal with every kind of individual, irrespective of their physical ability.”
With ‘Inclusive Knits’ she aims to address the particular requirements of wheelchair users through her specific knitting technique. Cool, right?! By using a range of knit structures throughout a garment and specific cutting methods her jumpers are a perfect fit for wheelchair users. The design also places pockets on thighs instead of the back of trousers, whilst tight fitting cuffs prevent sleeves from being caught in wheels.
What we particularly like about her attitude to the design process is that she views disability as an aesthetic and artistic possibility to inspire her. Disability expands her design horizons.
Student & educational impact
Clearly, student designers and educational institutions have an important place in innovating the fashion landscape.
Jones and Neff are have used their final year projects as a platform the push for real change in the fashion world. Other examples of this from the UK include muscular dystrophy trailblazer, Laura Richter who designed a striking collection of wheelchair friendly garments. Also Robyn Griffiths, who was inspired by her brother’s Osgood-Schlatter disease, impressed industry experts with her distinctive functional fashion ideas.
At Parsons Design School, where Jones attended, a new discipline called ‘systems and society’ has been developed for Bachelor of Fine Arts students. It teaches students how to use their skills in a broader context and think outside the box.
Further encouragement of inclusive design by universities and colleges would ensure that the next generation of designers are more equipped to help fashion evolve. We hope this would result in disabled people being more widely represented.
London Fashion Week designer embracing models of all abilities
To help disability fashion evolve, the disabled community need to be visually representated at fashion events.
We do not deny that it takes special talent and skill to be a successful model. However, we would argue, as those who run and support the Models of Diversity Campaign or Runway of Dreams do, that everyone with that special talent and skill should be considered. Whatever their body type, mobility level or appearance.
Therefore, it’s a breath of fresh air that runways are slowly beginning to show some diversity. In the last few London Fashion Weeks (and in other fashion events around the world), there has been movement from some designers to embrace more diverse group of models.
Teatum Jones leading the way
For example, last year at London Fashion week the Teatum Jones design duo included visibly disabled models. Jack Eyers and Kelly Knox were part of their opening catwalk show. This was a resounding success and attracted a lot of positive publicity for their brand.
“It’s important to get people to reconsider our relationship with the body in the luxury fashion sector,” Catherine Teatum, one half of the design duo, said to news platform AFP.
“When you think there was a time when models of colour weren’t cast for shows, that’s bonkers! So we feel a little bit like that now.”
Exclusivity has always been favoured over inclusivity in the fashion world. So, the fact that certain designers are taking things into their own hands and trying to change the status quo is uplifting. It would be fantastic to see more designers following in Teatum Jones’ footsteps as well as going further than them, to include an even wider range of body types in their shows.
We can only hope this is the start of a more diverse future for modelling and, ultimately, the fashion industry as a whole.
The global fashion business is valued at a $1.2 trillion. Despite the fantastic developments discussed in this blog post, the truth is that very little of this money is focused on those with disabilities. We hope in the future the industry will further broaden its scope.
To do this, more mainstream fashion brands will have get behind smaller companies and disabled models. This could help make this movement a hard sticking, inclusive reality.
We need this to happen because having comfortable, functional and trendy clothing is something everyone deserves.
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