Adaptive fashion is clothing and accessories made for people with different degrees of disabilities. These disabilities include acquired disabilities, congenital disabilities, temporary disabilities, and physical disabilities. Adaptive clothing is for many people, from people with visible disabilities to people whose disabilities are not visible. It is very difficult for them to find clothing according to their need and yet fashionable. So, these people having different abilities often find limit themselves to typical clothing. Hence, from stores without wheelchair access to very limited options on online shopping platforms, shopping for clothes and accessories becomes quite challenging for people who fall outside the straight size norm.
So, with the increasing demand for adaptive clothing, some companies are taking initiatives to make adaptive designs to empower disabled people.
ASOS, the British retailer clothing company, created a wheelchair-friendly jumpsuit in 2018. The jumpsuit has a waterproof pocket on the breast (to store mobile phones), the top and the jacket of the jumpsuit can be zipped together or can be worn separately, the hem of the jumpsuit is a little long it also has adjustable sleeve cuffs. All this is made to make it easy to take the jumpsuit off and on.
Tommy Hilfiger partnered with Runway of dreams to create a clothing line for disabled children in 2016. Runway of dreams is a non-profit company by Mindy Scheier, a mother of a child with muscular dystrophy. In 2017. Tommy Hilfiger extended its collection by including adult clothing in their clothing for the disabled line. Hence, these clothes have one-handed zippers, adjustable hems, side seam openings, adjustable waist, magnetic buttons, etc to make them disability-friendly.
Nike launched Go Fly Ease shoes in 2021. These shoes are designed in such a way that one should be able to wear them without using their hands. It has a large opening so that the foot can slip easily in it. It has a band that folds it so that its sole bends in the middle. Once you slip your foot in the shoe, you press your heel down, and the band contracts and holds your foot like a regular shoe. Even though Go Fly Ease Shoe was a great initiative it came with its problems. It was a limited release launch. And the people who genuinely needed them were not able to buy the product.
The marketing campaign of the Go Fly Ease shoe is where they went wrong and were criticized. Mohammadian, founder of adaptive underwear brand told Forbes “Instead of using their marketing campaign as an opportunity to showcase people with disabilities using their product, Go FlyEase advertisements depicted able bodies engaged in active lifestyles. The exclusion of people with disabilities from Nike’s marketing campaign points to the larger stigma that continues to plague the disabled community. “People think ‘disability’ is a bad word to use but it’s not.” Big and known brands like this have an opportunity to make people with disabilities visible. The companies that have the resources and power to make changes and share a global message by including disabled models should do it.
The root cause of failure in growing adaptive fashion is that people with disabilities are very rarely involved in the conception of clothes designed for them. Many companies are trying to introduce adaptive clothing and adaptive accessories without actually testing them on disabled people. Companies should include trying and testing the clothing for its actual functionality before launching the product in the market.
How people with disabilities adapt to today’s fashion
As there are not many brands and shops that produce adaptive clothing, people try and modify the regular clothes to suit their bodies.
- People who struggle with motor skills, have problems with zippers and buttons. These try to find pants with elastic bands and without button shirts from regular clothing shops. But these types of clothing items are only available in clothes for nursing homes. It becomes difficult to find a good fit clothing which can also look good on you.
- People replace their buckled shoes with shoes that have Velcro. They also replace the laces in the shoes with bungee cords so that they can be worn as a slip-on.
- People in a wheelchair have to find jeans and pants that have a high waist and are long enough that they don’t slip down while sitting. These types of pants are difficult to find in regular clothing. So, they opt for tall jeans and long shirts to hide their pants slumping waistline.
- People prefer long baggy dresses instead of fashionable crop tops and jeans to cover medical instruments like a catheter or portable oxygen cylinder.
There should be more clothing choices available to people with disabilities. They should be able to embrace fashion with similar grace and options as people without disabilities. Finding adaptive fashion products is undoubtedly a struggle. It’s a never-ending fight for people with disabilities. Various brands are trying to jump in and embrace the call to action with execution and determination to design adaptive clothing. Therefore, hopefully one day, adaptive fashion will be easily available for people in need. And it won’t be a struggle to find clothing for people with disabilities.