Braille on tags, designs for wheelchair users: Adaptive fashion excludes no one

  • Style
  • Thursday, 08 Jun 2023

The Claire Common fashion label focuses on inclusvity. For example, a pair of trousers with sewn-on pockets at knee height, can be useful for people in a wheelchair. Photo: Instagram/Claire Common

Patterns you can feel, Braille on the tags and no stubborn cuts. A few innovative designers are making small changes to their designs to make a huge impact for those with different needs.

Low-cut jeans may feel comfortable enough when going for a walk. But sit down in them and you may notice that you're suddenly revealing more than you wanted.

And if you're sitting for a long time, the rivets and pockets may end up pinching you.

Not only that, if you really think about it, how practical is a trench coat if you're sitting and not standing up?

These examples show that not every item of clothing always fits every occasion. And they also show that not all fashion is designed for all people equally.

People who spend most of their time sitting down, in a wheelchair for example, have different needs than those who usually get around by foot.

Fashion that is designed around these different needs and abilities is called adaptive fashion.

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"Adaptive fashion does not exclude anyone and is designed together with people with disabilities," explains Anna Flemmer, a fashion design expert in inclusion.

According to the designer, inclusive fashion should be "easy and intuitive" and "oriented towards the target group's needs".

Classic wheelchair trousers, for example, are cut higher at the back and have longer legs.

But while the market for adaptive fashion is growing, it can still be a challenge to find well-fitting items that you also like.

Anna Franken, who has a neuromuscular disease and uses a wheelchair, was particularly bothered by how a lot of wheelchair fashion looked the same. She is a fashion designer and founder of the adaptive fashion label Wundersee fashion.

"I looked at what I myself need in my day-to-day life, especially when it comes to putting on and taking off the clothes," says Franken.

A trench coat, for example, can be adapted for someone who uses a wheelchair.

Wundersee Fashion's trench coat is long at the front but short at the back.

"So that you can easily put the coat on and take it off when in a wheelchair," explains Franken.

In addition, it has magnetic fasteners and shorter sleeves, which don't get in the way when pushing the wheelchair or get dirty quickly.

Franken, who is a member of the Association of German Fashion and Textile Designers (VDMD), designs her clothes with the help of online surveys.

There are a number of tricks that can be used for various items of clothing, she says.

For example, there shouldn't be any seams or pockets on the underside as these can cause pressure sores. Other things are more individual, such as sleeve length.

Adaptive fashion isn't just about the functionality of each item. Being able to buy and wear the latest fashion is also important.

Some people with disabilities would prefer not to express any special needs at all and would rather buy conventional clothing, as Flemmer knows from years of contact with people with disabilities and work with focus groups.

It would be helpful if physical stores had tactile surfaces and Braille signage or if online shops were accessible for people with disabilities.

Flemmer says that she herself designs "fashion for everyone, but with a focus on the visually impaired".

Such items can be reversible, for example, and "have no front or back".

This is useful for people who find it hard to distinguish between the right and wrong side of the fabric. It's also important for care instructions and sizes to be accessible, for example cork labels in Braille or QR codes that link to an audio message.

Flemmer and her team are also working on making patterns tactial, in the form of reliefs, for example for people who are blind from birth. She has noticed a development.

"It's not as difficult to find cool items as it was a few years ago."

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Sometimes even small details make a difference – zips, for example, that are deliberately placed somewhere else or side slits. And crop tops that only hit the waist can be just as convenient for people who sit in the office all day as they are for people who use a wheelchair.

In designer Claire Common's collections there are elements that you don't notice as having a function straight away.

A pair of trousers with sewn-on pockets at knee height, for example, which can be useful for people in a wheelchair. There's also a hoodie dress with large pockets.

Made from a stetchy fabric, Common says that it will sretch back and hold its shape.

"It's both inclusive and adaptive because it's easy to put on and get into."

But she also knows the limits of her fashion for people with more severe disabilities.

"I actively decided against it because I wanted to show that fashion can be inclusive without much extra effort," says Common. – dpa

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fashion , trends , diversity , inclusivity


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