That one outfit. The one hanging in your closet. The one that instantly boosts your mood. That increases your happiness and gets you ready for the weekend. No matter what. The reason for that is something called "enclothed cognition". Dr. Dawnn Karen believes the act of dressing up in fashionable clothing can help make you feel better about yourself and the world.
However, for 15% of the world's population having that experience is more difficult. These 15%, estimated 1 billion people, live with some kind of disability. So far, they have had a tough time finding and shopping for clothes due to the failure of brands to account for disabled people. Some such as Nike have even failed to make their "accessible solutions" accessible to the people needing them.
Adapting one step at a time
Even though Nike messed up, they are trying. And so are other brands as well. The "problem" is that the process is more complicated than brands might have thought. Following a standard design process and exchanging buttons and zippers for magnets is not enough.
"We are seeing more and more brands trying to 'get it right', but they often miss the mark because they are missing the lived experience" - Keely Cat-Wells
In other words, the fashion industry needs to increase the representation and influence of disabled people on the design process of the adaptive clothing.
One of the people, they could consult, is Stephanie Thomas. She is a former beauty pageant contestant that developed her own "Disability Fashion Styling System". She has since been consulting with brands about adaptive and inclusive clothing as well as curating outfits for disabled people on her own blog.
Other options for increasing internal knowledge of the lives of disabled people could be collaborating with some of the many smaller adaptive clothing brands that are emerging. Most of these are started by people with lived experience. However, they struggle for awareness due to social media algorithms. Thus, a strategic partnership could possibly benefit both parties.
Representation is increasing
It is not just in the design process though that representation of disabled people could be improved. All parts of the fashion industry have parts to play. Fashion magazines can increase the amount of featured disabled models in their articles. Brands can increase the use of them in their storytelling and branding. Finally, space could be made for them on the runway.
Thankfully, all of these things are improving. In 2018, Teen Vogue profiled three disabled models for their September issue. And during the New York Fashion Week 2020, the first virtual fashion show for adaptive clothing was hosted by the Runway for Dreams Foundation.
These things move society forward and makes us progress. It creates visibility that makes it easier for all of us to act and be aware. With awareness comes education. Once educated more brands will hopefully overcome the fear of insulting people and take the leap into offering inclusive fashion for all. And for each additional brand offering adaptive clothing more will follow.
Can technology help?
In one of my other articles for Mindless Mag, I have written about sizing and customisation technology. These technologies are predicted to be present within the next decade and allow for jeans to be finished later in the supply chain. However, whether that includes thought about adaptability is unknown.
One solution could be to use universal design. According to disability activist and model, Angel Dixon, universal design is about
"You can't capture everyone's requirements in one item. But the whole concept of universal design is that you could capture those needs in several items that look the same."
In other words, one design in terms of style, cut, and colours with multiple fastening options. Hopefully, this can be incorporated into the technology that is currently being developed by fashion brands to customise sizing. It would certainly make sense to account for those types of inclusion when creating new technologies anyway.
Other technological solutions may also become available in that time. Currently, scientists at Yale are experimenting with robotic fabrics made up of different robotic fibres. They will be able to create a supportive skeleton that can help carry weight or adapt to different environments and users.
Whichever technology arises, the adaption to clothing for disabled people is picking up pace, and as Angel Dixon has also said:
"The future looks like freedom of choice and everyone together".