Thoughtful and smart: adaptive fashion as an inclusion booster
Thoughtful and smart: adaptive fashion as an inclusion booster
March and April are the months the media home in on the fashion trends of Spring/Summer 2021 – as do (online) stores, of course. High time for REHACARE.com to check in with several labels. And who knows? Maybe your closet will soon also feature a piece of some of our highlighted brands? Fortunately, there are several adaptive fashion brands out in the market, offering a trove of great styles.
Paid models turned brand ambassadors: Tan Caglar (left), Dieter Laven and Nina Wortmann proudly wear Rolling Pants. Why? "The details are thoughtful, the pants are functional and are made to fit wheelchair users," gushes Wortmann.
All these labels aim to give individuals with disabilities a sense of independence and freedom to dress comfortably and with style because they have the same consumer demands as everyone else when it comes to clothes. Fashion for wheelchair users only needs some minor adaptations to be functional, comfortable, and diverse.
Designed by life - purchased by wheelchair users
"Our customers are just like everyone else: they want a pair of pants that fit and suit their personal style in terms of fit, material, and color and look good with other clothing items," says Thomas Schmidt. He is the founder and managing director of the company Rolling Pants since last year and knows pretty much everything there is to know about – you guessed it – pants. But the label, which has been on the market since 2015, also features basics such as shirts, scarves, and accessories. The pieces take their place in the so-called upper casual wear segment – playing in the same league where shoppers can find brands such as Marc O'Polo, Hilfiger, Gant or Brax. "These brands have shaped our design aesthetic," adds Schmidt.
Yet not all disabilities are the same. What works for a person in a wheelchair does not necessarily work for a person with a different disability. That is why Rolling Pants offers different materials and types of fit to address all customer needs. Shoppers can choose zipper pants or pull-on pants, elastic waist pants or elastics pants with button extenders, and pants in relaxed, regular, and slim fit. They also come in different types of materials ranging from "classic denim to Tencel denim with more stretch thanks to spandex, all the way to cotton – but they are always elastic". To cover a broad spectrum of products, the company from Wedel, a town in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, not only encourages its customers to make suggestions, but also tests all collections extensively via its own creative advisory board – which includes people both with and without disabilities.
The company is on the right track with its pants, which is also mirrored in the excited faces in the company’s ads: Dieter Laven was so passionate about the idea that he not only supports the label as a brand ambassador but is also actively involved as a co-designer. Nina Wortmann and Tan Caglar also have become more than professional models for the company’s ad campaign and have long since been fervent friends and supporters of Rolling Pants. Schmidt proudly explains: "All three were enthusiastic about the idea and concept of the pants right from the start. They have been our patrons ever since and proudly wear our pants."
If there is no adaptive clothing, we must make it ourselves, said Sofie Ternest (right) and Jessie Provoost. So Yes celebrates five years in business. And the two Belgians still have more big plans in the works.
From occupational therapists to designers
The company story of Sofie Ternest and Jessie Provoost also reveals just how much Rolling Pants has cultivated a niche. The two women worked as occupational therapists in a rehabilitation center and saw firsthand how much people with various disabilities or impairments struggle daily to get dressed. Ternest and Provoost know a thing or two about coat closures that require extensive fine motor skills and can test someone’s patience if they lack these skills, or wheelchair users who are forced to expose their ankles but not for fashion reasons. "One of our tasks as an occupational therapist is to give them the right advice", says Ternest. "However, there was little or nothing on the market that was sufficiently comfortable and fashionable. Then we decided to start our own clothing line." No sooner said than done – So Yes was born.
Sustainability is a top priority for the Ternest/Provoost duo. The designers use natural materials such as cotton or wool.
Garments often only need a few smart adjustments to make a big difference. But for people with physical impairments, these small changes determine whether then can undress or get dressed by themselves. This also expands their self-determination skills. "Our mission is to provide maximum support to people so they can be independent and feel comfortable", says Ternest. Whether it's a variety of sitting trousers or jackets with magnetic zippers –people with rheumatoid arthritis or Parkinson's disease, as well as people with paraplegia or spinal cord injuries can find their perfect match at the Belgian fashion label. Of course, this means that the company’s target market is very broad and diverse. "We try to take into account the different target groups in our collections. Thus, a garment is very often a solution for people with various disabilities."
Their professional experience has taught the two women important lessons. They keep asking for feedback from their customers or their models and the two showcased their label at the REHACARE trade fair The Belgian entrepreneurs received feedback from potential buyers but also networked with interesting B2B clients. Speaking of collaborations: "We have recently started cooperating with other companies that develop stylish custom clothing. This allows us to expand our offers even faster with items that complement our collections and meet the needs of people with disabilities even further."
A herringbone pattern that fits perfectly: customers like Manuela Schupp (photo) know what they appreciate about Jessica Lewerentz's work. Whether it's a cape or trousers - everything is made to measure.
Fabrics, colors, self-determination – custom-made by Fadenstolz
Jessica Lewerentz can also attest to the opportunities trade fairs can provide to a startup company. Not only is it a chance to be seen and receive valuable feedback, but you can also get an excellent overview of what’s (hopefully) happening in the industry. The master tailor from Bremen, Germany, originally ran into the same problem as the So Yes founders: "There are all sorts of available assistive devices and adaptive equipment for people with disabilities, but there were mostly only compromises when it came to fashion. Luckily, that has started to change."
Lewerentz does not have a disability. So, what prompted her to start her own business and create fashion for wheelchair users? When an acquaintance suffered a severe MS flare-up in 2013, she decided to launch her own fashion label called Fadenstolz. The flare-up meant her sister’s colleague needed to use a wheelchair from that point on – which limited her clothing choices. The other issue was that her power wheelchair also made it difficult to access stores. "I wanted to ensure that wheelchair users don’t just get to choose from limited available clothing options but have the same great clothing selection as non-wheelchair users."
The master tailor typically designs everyday apparel for her customers. Besides pants, she also makes custom rain jackets and coats. Sometimes the Fadenstolz label can also be found inside a wedding dress.
Since the master tailor has not yet been able to find the right accessible studio, she makes home visits to service her clients. Armed with fabric samples, she caters to customers in Bremen and the surrounding areas and has made a virtue out of necessity: "I can peek inside my client’s closet to see if what I am about to create will fit in with the rest of his/her wardrobe." Apart from colors and making sure the pieces can be combined with what’s already in a person’s wardrobe, Lewerentz also wants her custom-made items to be manageable, and wheelchair-friendly. Even if the clothes are designed to show off curves and great fashion sense, "my top priority is always to make sure my customers can comfortably dress and undress on their own."
For the hottest season of the year, Rolling Pants offers breezy cotton summer pants.
Adaptive fashion: Pleasantly unobtrusive and discreet
Yes, fashion is also a form of self-expression and a way to communicate your individuality. But people with disabilities do not always want to stand out in a crowd. After all, they often already stick out, thanks to the mental barriers in the minds of their fellow human beings and society. At first glance, adaptive fashion seems to suggest that people don’t "follow the norm". But that’s not the case, emphasizes Sofie Ternest: "Adaptive clothing is something that sounds special or different, but actually the clothes look very normal." Dieter Laven points to another big advantage: Fashion and accessories from inclusive labels "are thoughtful and make my life so much easier." And Nina Wortmann adds: "This company 'is proactive'." This label doesn’t just apply to the North German brand. It’s also true for adaptive fashion on the whole. Not surprisingly, the diversity of people is also increasingly reflected in the fashion industry, as our article from last year illustrates.
In the mood to shop online? Apart from their upcoming fall collection featuring jackets and capes, Sofie Ternest and Jessie Provoost are already designing the two collections for next year, which will mean a big brand expansion. But first comes summer and new colors and breezy cotton summer pants made by Rolling Pants, says Thomas Schmidt. The North German company also has long-term goals. "In one to two years, we want Rolling Pants to be a brand that’s in every wheelchair user’s closet." And if you need a tailor-made piece and happen to live near Bremen, perhaps Jessica Lewerentz of Fadenstolz is your ultimate destination.
Anne Hofmann (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com