Why major brands should rethink adaptive fashion and take it seriously | Bot To News

Far from simply being a limited niche concern, the adaptive fashion market is predicted to be worth around $400 billion by 2026.

Adaptive fashion refers to clothing and apparel suitable for people with physical or sensory disabilities who may have difficulty dressing or experience severe discomfort and discomfort when wearing standard clothing.

Typical modifications to ensure clothing can meet the needs of consumers with disabilities may include magnetic and velcro closures instead of buttons and drawstrings for people with dexterity issues, hidden zippers to access external tubes, and temperature control fabrics.

While there are several specialist manufacturers of adaptive clothing, such as Belgium-based So Yes, British brand I Am Denim and Chicago-based Social Surge, major fashion houses and brands have been slower.

While the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Nike’s forays into the adaptive clothing market are welcome, the latter in the form of its hands-free Go FlyEase trainer, its presence is the exception, not the rule.

When it comes to assistive goods and equipment, there will of course always be a place for specialist providers, especially when dealing with more complex medical needs.

However, the lack of integration for adaptive clothing results in multiple disadvantages for shoppers with disabilities.

For starters, the lack of consumer choice and competition inevitably drives up prices and makes it harder to get products. In addition to this, personal style and identity are as important to the disabled consumer as to anyone else; therefore, limiting the set of available products only narrows and limits those options.

In 2022, the barriers to inclusion within the fashion industry remain multiple and countless, from the lack of physical access to stores, dressing rooms and fashion events to the dearth of inclusive design modules in education courses and the lack of diverse types of body that struts or struts. rolling down the catwalks.

Another major pain point concerns mistaken and inaccurate stylistic assumptions about what customers with disabilities need and want.

In the eternal juggling between form and functionality – too often the latter wins -, with brands concerned with the demand for comfort over style and emotional attachment.

Seeing is believing

Just before New York Fashion Week last September, Genentech, a pharmaceutical company that makes drugs for people with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), sponsored the Double Take fashion show in an effort to subvert some of the misconceptions that cloud the industry of adaptive clothing.

Instead of over-medicated functional solutions and activewear, the show featured mostly disabled models showcasing high-end, glamorous evening wear, proving that comfort and functionality don’t have to come at the expense of stylistic flourish.

The show was held in conjunction with Open Style Lab, a nonprofit organization started at MIT in 2014 dedicated to designing functional yet stylish clothing for people with disabilities using collaborative teams of designers, engineers, and occupational therapists.

Andrea Saieh is an Open Style Lab Fellow who helped adapt some of the outfits seen in the Double Take show and is a fashion designer with her own eponymous label based in Bogotá, Columbia.

She says her experience working on the Double Take program served as a timely reminder of the importance of meticulously co-designing together with people with disabilities:

“As fashion designers, we have to make sure we listen to what people need. Too often, we’re designing clothes but not listening to what disabled people are saying and just making assumptions about what we think they want.”

Sawsan Zakaria (pictured above) was born with spinal muscular atrophy and walked the runway for Double Take.

“Maybe a lot of clothing manufacturers assume that people with disabilities can’t think for themselves and don’t care about their appearance. Often, a lot of adaptive clothing is the best way I can put it: very medical-looking,” she says.

“Ultimately, I know because of my disability – I stick out like a sore thumb. But the great thing about fashion and maintaining a personal style is that it just takes away from everything that focuses on disability and helps disabled people fit in , to tell their story and put others at ease to talk about clothes and tell you they like your shirt.”

Acknowledging the widest fit

Shay Senior, who heads Israel-based adaptive clothing consultancy and accreditation, Palta, believes the industry requires a mindset shift to not see adaptive clothing as a narrow market that caters only to people with certain types of disabilities.

“Instead of talking about adaptive clothing, we like to think more about inclusive clothing lines and universal design,” says Senior.

“Instead of just thinking about a pair of pants marketed to a wheelchair user, how about something that works for other people who maintain a sitting posture for many hours of the day like office workers?”

He continues: “Magnetic closures can be good for a person with dexterity issues, but there are also many non-disabled people who like the style and just want to be able to get their shirt on and off quickly.

“Too often the global brands we talk to worry that designing an adaptive collection would be a complete departure from what they’re doing right now and would require new factories and fabrics, but in reality it’s not that black and white and the markets they are much more interconnected than they imagine”, he explains.

Saieh couldn’t agree more:

“Rather than having brands just for people with disabilities, it would be wonderful to get to a place where all fashion brands are doing this,” she says.

“In fashion, every designer and brand has their own unique aesthetic and in an equal world, people should be free to choose the aesthetic they most identify with.

“At the end of the day, these big fashion brands already have the base design, so they can think about adaptive variations just like they do with different sizes, as long as they’re doing their research and getting feedback from customers.

“Brands will save money because they use generally the same design, the same materials and it’s essentially the same garment with small tweaks for customers that will make a big difference,” says Saieh.

One can imagine that such a difference would extend far beyond the feel-good factor of wearing something you like.

Physical comfort is also clearly important, but the psychological warmth that comes from seeing personal needs and style constantly reflected on clothing racks, online stores and the media should never be underestimated.

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