Have you ever bought a cosy-looking jumper you thought would be perfect for winter, only to discover after half an hour of wearing it that the material is actually really uncomfortable and irritating? Perhaps you picked up a beautiful dress, but had to cut the tags out of it because they kept scratching you?
The worst for me was finding out that the band shirt I’d been wanting for a really long time had the thickest, stiffest seams of any top I’d ever worn. Issues like this can be really frustrating, but for some people, they can be the difference between a good day, or a really bad day.
What is sensory-friendly fashion?
Sensory-friendly fashion refers to clothes that are conscious of the often uncomfortable aspects of clothing, and make an attempt to rectify them. This might mean using breathable material, soft seams, and not including irritating brand or care labels.
Although this might seem simple, it’s surprisingly difficult to find brands that cater to these requirements, especially when wanting to be trendy, as most sensory-friendly companies only create clothes for children.
This is problematic for several different reasons, not least of which being that people don't simply "grow out" of their neurodivergencies, and that although children may be more vocal about their sensory requirements, this doesn't meant that adults with a myriad of different conditions do not struggle and suffer through frustrating clothing on a daily basis.
People who are autistic, or have down syndrome or ADHD might struggle to regulate themselves without this type of clothing, as sensory processing disorder is often very prominent with these conditions. Some people with very sensitive skin or eczema might require clothing that doesn’t aggravate them. And sometimes people with no conditions just want to be comfortable in their daily life - something that should be a simple necessity.
So, here are three brands attempting to rectify this.
Launched in 2017, Fferal is committed to sustainability and ethically sourced materials. All of their collections are permanent as an antidote to fast-fashion with seasonal turn arounds. On top of this, the CEO's daughter has down syndrome and the sensory issues that often come with it, leading the brand to focus on ensuring that their clothes are both comfortable and sensory-friendly. All of their items are made out of 100% soft combed cotton, and knitted in interlock so that the material can stretch and recover. With t-shirts available from £25, Fferal is certainly affordable for a sustainable brand.
Lucy and Yak are a completely transparent brand that focuses on being ethical and sustainable, similarly to Fferal. Their dungarees are made from soft material and are bright, bold, and stylish. This is a company that celebrates its neurodivergent staff members, and listens to them when designing their items. They offer a range of different materials for their clothes - corduroy, cotton, denim, and fleece - which gives customers a variety to choose from, allowing them to cater to their own sensory needs. The numerous bright colours and patterns available from this company creates a great range of comfortable, sustainable, and stylish clothing, committed to revolutionising the fashion industry.
This company differs from the others as it is specifically a sensory-friendly brand whose clothes are made to be functional and a priority. They offer a wide range of base-layers and seamless clothing that can be worn underneath other clothes in order to make them more comfortable. Sensory Smart also make school uniform alternatives as well as items made for folk with different medical needs such as diabetic support socks and other compression items. Whilst this company might not be the most trendy, they more than make up for it in affordability and functionality.
What needs to change?
Creating designs with sensory needs in mind is not often a priority for most high-end fashion companies, but this doesn't need to be the case. Companies like Lucy & Yak make the point that you can be sensory-aware whilst also remaining trendy and stylish. Fferal makes it clear that you don’t need to surrender sustainability in order to produce comfortable clothing, and these clothes also don’t need to cost a fortune to produce, which is proven by Sensory Smart.
As consumers, neurodivergent people should be able to express themselves fully through their clothing and style without needing to sacrifice their comfort or wear clothes that will trigger their sensory issues. This is why it is so important for there to be more representation of autistic or other neurodivergent people within the fashion industry who can bring these problems to light and bring about real change for more marginalised people.