Adaptive fashion. A term that hit the luxury fashion aspect of the industry in 2016 when Tommy Hilfiger launched Tommy Adaptive. A brand of clothes designed with the needs and body types of people with disabilities in mind. Awesome right? The world of fashion had finally decided to pay attention to this group of consumers, by creating something just for them. There are metal and velcro fasteners, slip-on shoes in new styles and various color and design options as covers for medical devices to make the look stylish. Adaptive fashion was a thing, people would finally have options that were stylish and be seen as more than just their disability…… right?
Adaptive Fashion: Where Are We?
When I first heard about adaptive fashion, I was excited about it. Well everything except the name in my opinion, but that’s a story for another time. My first thought was Finally we’re getting there, fashion is catering to us. I couldn’t help but think back on my childhood, especially my teen years. I remember growing up when I was looking for style tips to help find clothes I would love as well as ways to style something so that I loved it and I could wear it worry free with my disability However I quickly realized that searching anything and some variation of the word disability meant that I would end up with results that talked about benefits or medical jargon associated with a disability, nothing about fashion and definitely not style tips, stylish outfits or adaptive fashion brand suggestions.
The rise of adaptive fashion meant I didn’t have to face that any more. When I looked for tips, I would find them, I hoped. Six years later, there are various adaptive brands with more launching every year, but these brands aren’t go-to options yet, and there is still more they can do. That being said if you are looking for some adaptive fashion options, there might just be something that works for you.
Adaptive Clothing Brands
Abilitee: This brand was started with a single goal: to create stylish, adaptive clothing and accessories for people with chronic illnesses and/ or disabilities. According to the website, it has since evolved to include advocacy, sustainability and community building. I’ve found some cute options and I’m looking forward to seeing what the brand launches in the future.
Billie Footwear When Billy Price became paralyzed from the chest down after a fall, he needed to learn how to do some tasks differently including getting dressed for the day. He struggled to find shoes that fit his style and were relatively easy to put on so instead he created a brand just for that. I didn’t know about this brand before writing this post and during my short time checking out the options, I’d found several sneakers that I could see myself adding to my closet. Maybe I’ll do a post or an Instagram Reel about the brand, I don’t know we’ll see.
Adaptive Fashion: What’s Missing
As a person with a disability I can’t wait to see what becomes of these brands and others out there, that being said we haven’t made that much progress when it comes to certain aspects of adaptive or inclusive fashion. Six years later, the initial excitement has passed. The fact that the clothes exist is not enough. The clothes need to be functional, stylish, and affordable. Although adaptive fashion options exist for everything I’ve looked at I would only consider wearing some of it based on style. Adaptive and inclusive brands are great and important, but it doesn’t help if the clothes don’t make you feel amazing.
Sinead Burke said it best, “ I want garments that reflect my personality. It’s difficult to find in the childrenswear department. And often, womenswear requires far too many alterations. I want shoes that affect my maturity, professionalism, and sophistication. Instead, I’m offered sneakers with Velcro straps and light-up shoes.” Yes, style is subjective, but I want you to think about something for a second. Why is it that adaptive clothing doesn’t have as many color or pattern options? The majority of adaptive fashion that I see sticks with neutrals, which is great if you need it, however, as a woman who loves fashion I want to know that if I choose to wear adaptive clothing, I’ll find something that works the way I need it to as a wheelchair user and fits my style as well. Adaptive fashion needs to be functional and stylish.
“What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.” by Miuccia Prada, Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak by Rachel Zoe. The list of statements describing how important fashion or really style is, is a long one, so everyone should have as much choice in their style as possible including people with disabilities. We want to have fun with our style too just like everyone else, but we need to have clothes that cater to different styles as well as needs from a disability to make that work. The fashion industry has done well with its first steps when it comes to the functional aspect of adaptive fashion, now we need to style choices please.
I’m looking forward to seeing where this aspect of the fashion industry is in the next 3 to 5 years. If you could tell or ask the fashion industry for one thing when it comes to adaptive fashion, what would it be? Let me know in the comments.