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Closing the gap between Mainstream Fashion and Adaptive Fashion

Over the years, the fashion industry has addressed several issues in society, from body positivity, plus-size models, modest fashion and conscious fashion. But what about adaptive fashion? How often do we see the fashion industry advertising fashion for disabled people or those with additional needs? Not often enough. And the reason why? It’s not regarded as “mainstream”.

We really need to question why adaptive fashion lacks presence in the mainstream fashion industry, when there are so many of us that have to conquer everyday struggles like dressing ourselves and finding suitable clothing which is both comfortable and fashionable.

According to the World Health Organisation, about 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, of whom 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning.’ From the offset, this doesn’t seem a lot, however, disability charity Scope have identified that in the UK alone, there are 13.9 million disabled people. That’s over 10 million people that the fashion industry should be taking into account when creating and designing clothes for mainstream fashion.

It shouldn’t be an option for brands to just take into consideration and sell a one-off product or promote disability awareness through a campaign every so often– it should be seen consistently across the board and instilled within the everyday fashion market.

Is the fashion industry truly diverse and inclusive?

Most disabled people struggle with mundane tasks, getting dressed, going to the bathroom, having a shower, all of these things that people without disabilities take for granted on a daily basis. When it comes to clothing, disabled people and those with additional needs find it difficult trying to find something suitable but still on trend.

We cannot truly say that the fashion industry is 100% diverse and inclusive when customers are still having to either shop online at retailers that do sell adaptive clothing or visit speciality stores that sell appropriate clothing which isn’t always fashionable or trendy.

Certainly, the fashion industry can do a lot more to be more inclusive for disabled people’s needs, instead of treating disability as though it doesn’t exist. Because it does exist. There are disabled people and people with additional needs that want to look stylish, fashionable and trendy when they go out.

They want to express their identity and style the same as everyone else and they shouldn’t be deprived of this opportunity simply because the fashion industry hasn’t made the necessary adjustments to the mainstream market.

Accessible clothing brands: How they are starting to address adaptive fashion

Although the fashion industry is clearly still lacking inclusivity, there are some brands that have started to take disabled fashion into consideration. In 2016, American global fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger launched an adaptive clothing line, catering for customers with disabilities and other needs. The clothing line, appropriately named Adaptive offers disability friendly clothes to the everyday customer.

The line ranges from adjustable waistbands and straps on trousers and shirts, jackets with one hand zippers and shirts with magnetic-button fastenings. The line is available for both children and adults offering various solutions for everyday struggles.

Tommy Hilfiger is one of the few designer brands that have adapted their clothes for people with disabilities is innovative and forward-thinking. What’s really amazing about this brand is their awareness for diversity and inclusion. The line is not just a one-off opportunity for disabled people, but has been incorporated into their brand as part of their permanent collections.

US clothing retailer Zappos is another major retail brand offering a dedicated line specifically for disabled customers. The line ranges from slip on shoes, single shoes and different size pairs, allowing people with prosthetics to purchase different size shoes for their feet. Zappos are promoting adaptive fashion by merging fashion with accessibility through their easy-dressing clothing line and seated clothing for wheelchair users.

Their clothing is both fashionable and comfortable, which makes the search for clothes easier and more convenient for disabled people. Zappos is a brand that is fully accessible and supportive of disabled people and this is something we definitely need to see more of in today’s mainstream fashion industry.

Re-branding disability in fashion

Although some fashion brands have started to consider adaptive fashion, there is still a slow progress in making disabled fashion mainstream. Unlike the brands that are featuring disabled fashion as part of their mainstream collections, there are some brands which have taken the initiative of creating adaptive clothing, but then not taken their approach much further than this.

In 2018, ASOS worked with British Paralympian Chloe Ball-Hopkins to design a wheelchair friendly, waterproof jumpsuit for the festival season. In her article on the subject, Natalie Gil indicated that ‘the reaction on social media has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly among people with disabilities, campaigners and the charities fighting for their rights, suggesting that such a product is long overdue.

ASOS received praise for their approach in designing an item with disabled people at the forefront of its creation, as it is incredibly rare for a high street retailer to take such an approach. However, since this clothing item launch, the company have not since released any more disability-friendly clothing and the attention has since disappeared from view.

What tends to happen is that the attention on adaptive clothing and the awareness of disability within society dies down and doesn’t stay for the long run. This is very problematic as we cannot expect adaptive fashion to become mainstream when brands simply aren’t taking the responsibility to create a follow-up clothing line or even advertise similar items. Too often, the fashion industry gets away lightly with not being responsive enough to these types of situations and it’s about time that that changes.

After all, adaptive fashion is more than just a desire for many, it’s a necessity and it should be here to stay.


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