Designer Alexander McQueen once said that “fashion should be a form of escape, not a form of imprisonment”. Over the years, clothing and other accessories have been continually medicalized and have had this sterile feel about them which has played a role in ostracizing the disabled community, dooming them to a cultural wasteland where style and mode have never even been part of the nomenclature of the experience of disability. Yet over the past decade, the cultural zeitgeist has really started to change with the emergence of adaptive clothing taking hold and beginning to flourish. We are at a time when form and function have been amplified and the value of the world’s largest minority is playing an important role in real culture change.
Yet, it is important to note that design is only one element in the rise of this adaptive revolution. Its capacity for change begins with the notion that adaptive fashion is at the crossroads of economics, representation and new potential for brand growth that will have a ripple effect across the industry offering significant benefits on several fronts. For industry players, it is essential to highlight the far-reaching impact this cultural shift can have in helping to pave the way towards understanding the true value of the maxim “Nothing without us”.
When we think of fashion, ideas and words such as spectacle, beauty and even exclusivity may come to mind. Yet, in the world of adaptive fashion, the boundaries that separate us seem to dissolve by the highly inclusive nature of its intent. The realization is that through creativity and design, fashion can be accessed across the full range of human variability. However, even as the adaptive fashion trendlines continue to rise, the power of the show is not diminishing. As we’ve seen on the catwalks of New York and London Fashion Week, adaptive clothing is being celebrated as a booming category that’s making a name for itself in the annals of style. In New York, Genentech sponsored its first-ever fashion show known as “Double Take” to engage with the Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) community. This show highlighted an assortment of adaptive clothing designed to cater to different body shapes and disabilities. All of the models on the show had some form of SMA and were featured walking or rolling down the runway, emphasizing the power of self-expression. New York also highlighted the acceleration of the adaptive fashion revolution at what is now a perennial event, The Runway of Dreams Foundation fashion show. What makes this show unique is that it offers insight into the awareness and growth of adaptive fashion and its destination. Recognizable brands such as Kohls, JC Penney, and adidas, among others, are bringing their business into this space and recognizing that a $400 billion market for adaptive apparel is a key vertical in the future of their business strategy.
With changing economic realities and the social view of adaptive fashion continuing to evolve across the world’s catwalks and the ubiquity of social media platforms, a question arises, what is the collective impact of fashion? adaptive on the disability community. ? Arguably, the rise of adaptive fashion is a recipe for addressing issues such as social mobility. The growing space is not just confined to big brands, but is a cradle of entrepreneurship where creatives with disabilities can define their paths and help shape a future economic reality. During the last London Fashion Week, designer Victoria Jenkins and her company Unhidden unveiled her new tailored fashion collection in collaboration with Paralympian swimmer Will Perry. Jenkins, who became disabled in her mid-20s, said she was inspired by another patient at the hospital who not only wanted to find clothes that were nice but suited the needs of her changing body. Jenkins is an example of the wave of disabled entrepreneurs and designers who see the value in adaptive fashion for society as a whole, but offer an outgrowth where the potential for further development is possible. Adaptive fashion opens the doors to a new pool of talent to develop skills ranging from technical aspects such as textiles and design, to marketing and brand development.
It’s time to see all the tributaries that adaptive fashion has to offer. By providing both new market opportunities and the ability to create jobs, the disability community can become a more active participant in a new vertical venture. Adaptive fashion is ultimately not a trend, but rather a real necessity that all brands, big or small, will have to face.