Untapped potential: Fashion created for people with disabilities
Untapped potential: Fashion created for people with disabilities
Inclusive design, adaptive fashion – there are many terms that describe this phenomenon in German and English-speaking countries. But what are the features of (great) fashion designed for people with disabilities? And is clothing for wheelchair users and little people still an untapped market? REHACARE.com took a closer look at the fashion industry.
Special fabrics and their corresponding processing on jacket sleeves, for example, can make a big difference in everyday handling for people who use a wheelchair.
Sparkling and pretty hard to miss – the Italian athlete Giusy Versace caught everyone’s attention during Berlin Fashion Week earlier this year when she walked the runway with her dazzling glitter prosthetic legs. She garnered a big round of applause for her performance, but the resulting special (media) attention sadly also highlights that people with disabilities are often not included or don’t even land on the radar of the world of fashion where everything is seemingly perfect.
Can we get functional and fashionable clothing, please?!
A reminder that stylish clothing is possible came just recently: In the latest US season of "Project Runway", one of the show’s contestants designed a dress for the Paralympic athlete Tatyana McFadden. The athlete attests that it's hard for her to find dresses because of her broad body type and because of the wheelchair she has to use. When designer Nancy Volpe-Beringer asked McFadden about her preferences for the dress, the latter said she wants "something that’s a bit 'extra', namely a train." Not a problem for Nancy, who designed and created the dress McFadden envisioned within a day. The winning design was elegant, featured a train and was easy to get in and out of thanks to Velcro fasteners. A perfect match – as they say in the fashion world.
McFadden didn’t just gush about her dress on the show. She also went on her Twitter account to express how much she loves fashion and how it allows her to express herself. She also underscores that fashion should be accessible to everyone. The athlete is far from being the only one who sees things this way: social media platforms like Instagram feature countless photos of people with disabilities who share their outfits with the world using hashtags like #WheelchairFashion, #DisabilityFashion or #WheelchairStyle, making them no different from other Instagramers. Diversity in action. But many also talk about their problems in finding clothing that fits. It starts with structural barriers in stores and boutiques and ends with clothing items that don’t meet the needs of wheelchair users or people of short stature. This prompts many to shop online and know they probably have to return items. Or they only purchase from companies that specialize in making adaptive clothing.
In the online shop of Samanta Bullock (left), people who enjoy diverse fashion will find what they are looking for. Like, for example, trousers that look good both sitting on Sabine Klemens (right) and standing on Kathleen Humberstone (centre).
There are definitely companies like that out there, albeit many of them limit their designs to pants or general functional clothing. "There is essentially no haute couture or high-end fashion made for people with disabilities," says Sabine Klemens. "There is a reason Instagram users wonder why there are more (designer) clothing lines for pets than people with disabilities." Like any person who is able to walk, the wheelchair model appreciates fashionable outfits that reflect her personality and match the occasion. But those are not always easy to come by.
Klemens adds that typical pants and dresses often ride up in a seated position or are difficult to get into. "Due to my limited arm and grip strength, I prefer clothes with Velcro or easy-to-grab zippers that enable me to unzip the pants on my own." She also prefers jackets with shorter or tight sleeves to avoid getting them caught up in the wheels. Find out what other aspects this fashion-conscious wheelchair user looks out for and learn about her connection with the online stores of Samanta Bullock and Kinetic Balance in our article Fashion for wheelchair users – functional, comfortable, diverse.
Tommy Hilfiger meets AUF AUGENHOEHE
If the fashion industry generally took a more inclusive design approach, people with different types of disabilities would have more and better choices. As is the case in many other areas, increasing accessibility in fashion ultimately benefits all members of society, including people with disabilities. After all, when clothing combines functionality with comfort and style, it doesn’t just improve the lives of people with physical impairments. At REHACARE 2019, the one-handed lacing system by QuickShoeLace was a great hit with visitors. These laces are a truly helpful tool for some people with disabilities, while others simply appreciate that they are less hassle, save time and look stylish.
The list of mostly lesser-known companies and labels that have embraced the need to make fashion accessible for everyone now also includes famous American designer Tommy Hilfiger. In the spring of 2016, he stunned the fashion world when he unveiled his "Adaptive Collection" for children with disabilities, which was created in collaboration with the non-profit "Runway of Dreams Foundation". A year later, the collection was expanded to include apparel for adults. "Every piece is the same quality, the same fabric and the same design as we offer everyone else. The bonus is discreet, truly functional modifications that make dressing easier and allowing both children and adults with disabilities to have independence and feel great about themselves," Hilfiger is quoted on the collection website. These features include one-handed zippers, magnetic buttons, leg openings that open wide for leg braces and orthotics, tops with wide neck openings, and pants with a shorter front rise and higher back rise – perfectly designed for seated wear, comfort, and coverage.
According to the website, Hilfiger's team is also committed to enhancing and evolving the collection continuously and adapting it to meet the everyday needs of the target audience. And in general, the company’s policy seems to embrace a "think outside the box" approach. Another example of this is the launch of the Tommy Hilfiger Social Innovation Challenge. The global initiative aims to "support entrepreneurial start-up and scale-up stage businesses that are developing solutions that have a positive social impact on the fashion value chain". Among other perks, winners will receive a year-long mentorship and a grant.
Small people like Mick Mehnert (second from the right) can now finally buy clothes with the fashion from AUF AUGENHOEHEHE that fit directly.
Sema Gedik submitted her project proposal for the 2018/2019 challenge – and won! Her up-and-coming label AUF AUGENHOEHE (German: At Eye Level) makes sure little people find stylish clothing that fits. Gedik and her team are the first company in the world that creates standard clothing sizes for little people.
Mick Mehnert has been an AUF AUGENHOEHE (AAH) model right from the start. He is also a faithful customer. "I especially love the shirts and pants. Before that, I was unable to find shirts and pants with a perfect cut and fit. I also adore the Classic Logo T-Shirt. People keep asking me about my AAH t-shirt. I really enjoy that because it makes me feel cool and stylish. What’s awesome about the t-shirt is that everyone can buy it, regardless of body proportions." In the past, he was forced to have his outfits altered and shortened and they still wouldn’t fit properly. Things have certainly changed since then thanks to the fashionable clothing designed by Sema Gedik. She reveals how her ready-to-wear fashion aims to increase participation and inclusion in the fashion industry in our REHACARE.com Interview.
Last but not least, Mick Mehnert would like to ask the fashion industry for a favor: "I wish the fashion world would stop designing for just one type of body. That’s boring and unrealistic. It's so much more fun to reflect and celebrate the beauty of the world by embracing its diversity."
Link list: Fashion for people with disabilities
Which companies are there that produce fashion for people with disabilities? A small overview: