We all already experienced the struggle of finding THE piece of clothes that would perfectly fit our figure. Height, weight, morphology: fashion is still subjected to numerous diktats and it can be hard to feel represented. But if we already feel that way at our scale, how is it for people with disability? What obstacles do they face?
A study conducted by the INSEE (the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies) in 2015, states that a quarter of the French population lives with disability, meaning 12 million persons. Among them, 325,000 have a motor disability. In wheelchair, aged, isolated, dressing up for necessity… Isn’t that the common stereotype when we are talking about disability? However, it affects children as well as adults, women as well as men, from all age and all circle.
Depending on their disability, these persons present special needs in terms of clothing. A scratchy material will have a direct incidence on an autist’s ability to focus. It can take up to one hour for someone that is paralyzed to put on pants. In a wheelchair, pockets are hardly accessible. When having dexterity challenges, it becomes impossible to unbutton a shirt. Here are some of the daily challenges faced by the disability community, only to name a few.
On the occasion of our Look Forward FashionTech Festival last June, we received Stephanie Thomas. Born with congenital disabilities, she experienced the frustration of shopping for accessible shoes and clothing. She devoted the last 25 years of her career to advise people with disability in fashion styling and lifestyle, but also to challenge negative perceptions towards the community. Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Cur8able, she has become a reference on the topic and has shared her expertise on CNN, the Huffington Post, but also on a TEDx Talk.
Throughout her conference, Stephanie Thomas explained that dignity and independence when dressing are super important for people with disability. Today still, adaptive collections focus on functional rather than stylish.
« My purpose for the work that I’m doing is empower people with disabilities to acquire desired employment which leads to increased independence. This is just like other markets that have been seen as non-existent or fringe markets it will take time » Stephanie told us.
Clothing is an essential tool to adapt socially, which is why people with disability are claiming their right for aestheticism. Clothes and accessories targeting this specific segment remains scarce and expensive. Give them access to the same clothing diversity available for the mainstream, is helping them avoid social as well as professional exclusion, and is an opportunity to free themselves from the image of disability.
Many big corporates develop their social policy on the topic, being encouraged by specific laws and measures. They communicate a lot about their engagement, but at the moment, really few developed a product offer. Why? A fear of stigmatization for some, a “niche market” for others. A niche market that still represents 10% of the world population, which make the disability community the largest minority, with no less than 650 million persons (source : United Nations). As mentioned by Stephanie Thomas, “nowadays, there are more clothing options for pets than for people with disability”. This segment of the population does have a purchasing power that is unexploited at the moment.
These days, integrating minorities is in the heart of debates. Many initiatives have seen the light within the fashion industry. In 2016, Runway of Dreams partnered with Tommy Hilfiger on the brand’s adaptive spring kids line. This marked the first time a major brand created an adaptive version of an existing clothing line. The organization Runway of Dreams’ mission is to make mainstream adaptive fashion accessible for people of all abilities. In the same vein but in France, the association Cover-Dressing, that brings fashion and disability together, created the “Bien à Porter” (Good to Wear in English) label, aiming to help consumers with disability to easily spot which pieces of clothes are more likely to fit with their specific needs in mainstream ready-to-wear shop. The brand Brice announced the implementation of the label in its stores through its collaboration with the association.
Apart from big corporates collaborations, we also find independents, such as the brand Nos Ateliers, making clothes for little women, or Viktoria Modesta, who turned her disability into a strong fashion statement.
In France, several brands developed to clench the thirst of this population segment. Among them we find Constant et Zoé, who collaborated with Promod to launch an easy-to-fit shirt adapted to people with disability. The start up Zipsnap creates custom-made pieces depending on each customer needs, putting an emphasis on making functional, affordable and stylish clothes.
Integrating people with disability means giving them a place in society, and making it possible for them to wear the same clothes as anybody. Big corporates are best able to make a change. On that topic, our expert said that “Now that they know there is actually a model of success they will be open. We are at the beginning of this phase, but it is going to happen more and more”.
What about technology ?
In our article « WEARABLES AND HEALTHCARE : NEW APPLICATIONS », we introduced several innovative projects in that field. On the 13th of November, start ups enhancing directly, or indirectly, the lives of people with disability, losing their independence, or ill, are invited to participate to the HandiTech Trophy. However, on a lower scale, we can all help make a change, by spreading the word, maintaining the discussion alive, and raising awareness.
LOOK FORWARD’S PERSPECTIVE :
We live in an era when technology allow infinite personalization, it seems therefore unconceivable that the disability community is still left aside with no solution. So, after Petite, Tall and Curve lines, when will we see mainstream adaptive collections?