Fashion's Next Frontier – Functional Clothing For People With Disabilities

There seems to be a movement happening in the fashion design industry, one that transcends mermaid crowns and sock-sandal combos. This one, hopefully, will remain through changing runway seasons and help many lives at the same time.

What's the movement, you wonder? Creating clothing and fashion for those with disabilities.

Healthwear, adaptive clothing or solution-based design – all three terms refer to rethinking what fashion is and how fashion can work to solve problems rather than create them.

They are concepts pioneered by designers who are using both design techniques and trends to make clothes that are practical and stylish for those with disabilities.

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A shirt for people with tunneled catheters. (Photo: Care+Wear)

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Fashion for wheelchair-bound users. (Photo: Lucy Jones)

It actually makes a whole lot of sense and is strange to think why this movement hasn’t happened soon. The premise of fashion at its basics is giving people something to wear day to day. Therefore, why is this large segment of the buying market forgotten about? It is a niche market. And designers who are on to it now are in a potentially money making area of fashion.

Rather than making people with disabilities feel bad about themselves or feel more ostracized by fashion, many designers are realising they can make living life with a disability or chronic illness a lot easier.

But why hasn't mainstream fashion caught up to this market and tried to create change for people with disability? Perhaps designers did not know the market existed until now. Social media and online stores have enabled consumers to communicate directly with designers, telling them exactly what their needs and wants are.

There is also a desire right now for more personalised and unique clothing. For such a long time fast fashion was the “in” trend. However, many designers are bringing their brands back to quality and timeless pieces; traits needed for clothing in this niche market.

When designing for disabilities, each one is different so more time is needed to create the clothing. Fabrics and design techniques have to be of quality to ensure the clothing is practical and achieves its purpose.

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Fashion for wheelchair-bound users. (Photo: Lucy Jones)

Chaitenya Razdan, creator of his own innovative healthwear business Care+Wear, says he believes fashion for the disabled is an industry worth over $40 billion with over 580 million people admitted to hospital with a disability every year.

Mr. Razdan has designed a fashionable “sock” to cover peripherally inserted central catheters. He came to this idea when he noticed a member of his family with cancer was wearing what looked like the ankle section of a sock on their arm. This unattractive sock, however, was covering intravenous lines.

Hence, his idea to create socks that looked more like awesomely cool basketball and running socks than a medical contraption. The sock also has its practical elements – an antimicrobial treatment and comes with a mesh window to make dressings visible and let them breathe.

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The armband covers peripherally inserted central catheters. (Photo: Care+Wear)

Another designer focused on adaptive design is Lucy Jones. Named Design of the Year at Parsons School of Design in 2014, she specializes in seated design.

Jones looks at changing the proportions of clothes for those in a wheelchair and how the proportions of "seated clothes" differ to "standing clothes." She also looks at how to better take pieces on and off for those in a wheelchair.

She does not understand why taking clothes on and off should be challenging for anyone. Getting dressed is one of those that makes a person feel independent. It would be hard for many to realise the humiliation of always having to ask someone to help zipper your jeans. Thankfully though examples like this are inspiring Lucy Jones.

Big name brands are slowly joining the movement too

For example, Tommy Hilfiger and his collaboration with the organisation Runway of Dreams, a nonprofit that works with the fashion industry to adapt mainstream clothing for the differently-abled community. It seeks to integrate wearable technology and make modifications to clothing, making it adaptive for all. Particularly children’s clothing.

Runway of Dreams has designed many modifications. However, most effective is the technique of replacing buttons, zips and hooks and clips with the highly innovative Magna Ready magnets and closures. The brand also explores the creation of fully adjustable sleeve and pant lengths for those with limb differences and low muscle tone.

The collaboration is proving a success. It is estimated that 20% of Tommy Hilfiger childrenswear sales has come from the line.

Los Angeles-based jeans brand ABL Denim is also contributing. The brand aims to create stylish yet practical jeans for those in wheelchairs. The waistbands of the jeans are all set high to avoid the creep down effect of jeans when seated. They are also aiming to create jeans with weights to act as therapy for certain sensory disorders.

And finally, we have Toronto designer, Izzy Camilleri, founder of IZ Adaptive Clothing. She wants to help those in wheelchairs feel and look their best. Some of her unique design techniques include a pitch in the back so there are no wrinkles in the front when sitting down, not having any back pockets to avoid pressure sores and designing the cut of jackets and coats to be in an L shape so they don’t look folded over in the wheelchair.

Fashion is often portrayed as a self-indulgent and flimsy industry. So it is good to hear that certain designers are always looking to make positive changes, using their stylish talents for good and great causes.

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Denim collection for men, women, and children with disabilities. (Photo: ABL Denim)

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(Photo: IZ Adaptive Clothing)

Read More -> A gender-neutral clothing line for people who are 'not 100% straight'

By Konbini Staff, publish on 08/08/2016