Adaptive fashion market

sector - diversity & inclusion
sector - fashion
type - market focus
Market Focus
Fashion brands are addressing the sector’s ableist design history, tackling representation, wearability and material innovation for a more inclusive future

The fashion sector is stepping up its diversification of products to cater for differently abled consumers.

This follows years of utilitarian adaptive garments born from practicality. When you Google disabilities and clothing... it’s not geared towards people who actually want to feel confident and sexy and wear the clothes that are in mainstream stores,’ says Keeley Cat-Wells, a disability rights activist and CEO of C Talent, a talent agency representing people who are d/Deaf and disabled.

Now, however, a series of fashion-led brands are working to offer greater choice and aesthetically driven fashion for people with disabilities, using intelligent fastenings and fabric choices to transform once-utilitarian garments into those that instil confidence and elevate personal style for wearers.

Confidence-first clothing

While a key element of adaptive fashion has been fastenings and fabrics that allow for ease of dressing, brands are now recognising their responsibility to ensure consumers feel confident in what they’re wearing.

One method is through the use of intelligent prints. Monika Dugar, a recent graduate from London College of Fashion, has created [R E S E T], a fashion collection that incorporates bold striped patterns. While this provides an aesthetic impact it has a dual purpose of aiding mobility for people with Parkinson’s. The graphic print has the potential to ‘reset’ brain functions through visual cues, while pockets are positioned across garments to be more accessible.

Meanwhile, lingerie brands are paying attention to the power of their products to instil confidence and empower wearers of all abilities. Last year, apparel brand Aerie partnered with underwear label Slick Chicks to begin stocking its adaptive lingerie on Aerie's website, demonstrating how a mainstream fashion company can provide greater visibility for disability-inclusive designs.

In a similar vein, Intimately is an e-commerce platform for fashionable and sexy underwear for women with disabilities. Its range of underwear features side openings, magnetic bras and Velcro closures in styles that ensure wearers feel desirable and able to express their femininity. As Emma Butler, founder of Intimately, explains: ‘Women with disabilities don’t want to be treated like a medical accessory the way the market currently treats them.'

Published by:

14 April 2021

Author: Abi Buller and Savannah Scott

Image: Slick Chicks in partnership with Aerie


Nike Go FlyEase, US

Stability-boosting shoes

In the footwear category, brands are opening up conversations with people with disabilities or those with unique footwear requirements to better discern and identify ways of enabling a more seamless and inclusive footwear experience.

Nike, for example, explored the needs of disabled consumers during the design stage of the Nike Go FlyEase, its first hands-free trainer. Featuring a bi-stable hinge, the shoe is fully secure in both open and closed positions, and can be removed by applying pressure to a kickstand heel on the opposite foot. This functionality mimics the intuitive action that people often perform while removing their shoes.

Skatewear brand Vans has turned its attention to sensory-inclusive designs to better cater for a diverse range of consumers. For its Autism Awareness Collection in 2020, the brand sought to empower customers of all ages on the autism spectrum, from toddlers to adults. Catering for people with sensitivities to touch and sight, its shoes incorporated heel-pull tags to ensure ease of use, squishy cushioned fabric uppers and holographic panels. The range also incorporates cool, blue calming colour palettes.

While design and fabrics are helping to make footwear more inclusive, so too is fashion retail. In the US, Zappos is now selling single sandals and sneakers, as well as offering an option to buy mixed-size sneakers. The brand has also launched a testing service for shoppers with videos to guide product choices, alongside advice on topics like measuring a prosthesis.

‘Women with disabilities don’t want to be treated like a medical accessory the way the market currently treats them’
Emma Butler, founder, Intimately

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