Threads of Change

Even in 2024, disabled people are still underrepresented in mainstream fashion and often unable to wear off-the-rail clothes. Kate Stevenson speaks to two adaptive clothing designers to find out more 

Fashion brands are slowly but surely starting to rethink adaptive fashion. We’ve all got to wear clothes, so offering lines designed to make everyday life easier for disabled people makes business and moral sense. 

Tommy Hilfiger has worked closely with its disabled customers since 2016 to create inclusive collections, while Marks & Spencer offers adaptive clothing for children aged from birth to 16, including school uniform and everyday wear for children with hip dysplasia, feeding tubes and sensory sensitivities. Primark launched an adaptive underwear line with magnetic fastenings at the start of the year. But has enough really been done? 

Any progress is good news, but many designers are still failing to consider the disabled community when they create garments with fiddly buttons or add unnecessary zips to the back of clothes. It’s time for clothing brands to embrace inclusive fashion, because we all have different requirements when it comes to clothes, whether that’s size, cut, or fabric. 

ALTERATIONS 

It won’t come as a surprise to read that a quarter of disabled people need to have their clothing altered. Even though most of us would love to be able to buy adaptive garments from mainstream retailers, it’s just not possible. 

Cherish Reardon founded Popsy Clothing in 2017. The family-run business started altering clothes for customers when Cherish discovered how difficult dressing can be when her daughter broke her arm and needed a cast from her shoulder to her wrist. “It really opened my eyes,” she admits. “If Popsy Clothing can make life a little bit easier and stop people from worrying about their clothing, then I’m all for that.” 

REPRESENTATION 

Popsy Clothing features a wide range of models on the website, and Cherish explains: “We’ve always been inclusive in terms of representation – we don’t use professional models, and we’ve had wheelchair users apply to do customer modelling for us.” She explains this was never an intentional marketing plan; using a wide range of models to reflect real women has simply come naturally. 

Cherish speaks highly of her sewing team. Because all their clothes are made in the UK, they can add holes in dresses for medical pumps, shorten the length of dresses for wheelchair users, or remove tags from clothes for people with sensory needs, to meet everyone’s requirements. Offering free alterations like this is rare in the fashion industry: “I do think companies could be doing more to make adaptive clothing part of their normal ranges,” reveals Cherish. “I want more designers to look at a dress or piece of clothing and actually think about how they can make it accessible for everyone.” 

Pockets with holes make dressing easier.

HIGH STREET 

Victoria Jenkins, founder of adaptive clothing brand Unhidden, personally understands the frustration of shopping for clothes on the high street, as well as the nightmare of navigating stores. “I have to do a bit of a smash and grab because I can’t stand up for very long,” she explains. “If there’s a huge queue for the tills, that impacts me for the rest of the day.” She says many retailers make disabled people feel unwelcome because of accessibility issues on the shop floor and on the shelves.

 “Almost one in four people in the UK can’t just get dressed and go about their business,” Victoria explains. “It’s not only about the clothing itself; it’s about representation as well.” 

UNHIDDEN

Unhidden was Victoria’s answer to the gap in the market for fashionable and fun adaptive clothing for people of all ages and disabilities. The brand is disabled-led and works closely with disabled models at events like London Fashion Week. 

Victoria believes the mainstream fashion industry will only make progress by engaging with experts and those with lived experiences to identify ways they can improve. “I think designers are learning quite fast,” she says. “If you sell clothes, you need to have adaptive lines too. We have petite, tall and maternity wear in most stores, and I want to see the same for adaptive clothing. It needs to become normalised so people have a choice and don’t have to shop from one clothing brand for the rest of their lives.”

LESS RANGE 

Although some retailers are trying to be more considerate, the sad reality is that three in five disabled shoppers find it difficult to buy clothes they feel happy in. Victoria says this isn’t good enough: “There are more clothing ranges for dogs than for disabled people. That really underpins how disabled people are viewed and why the mindset shift is so important.”

GET DRESSED 

Head to the alterations section of Popsy Clothing at www.popsyclothing.co.uk to make your clothes as unique as you are. When you place your order, you can alter the length, sleeves, pockets, and belt loops, ask for holes to be added for medical pumps, and ask for tags to be removed. 

Browse Unhidden’s wide range of adaptive clothing online at www.unhiddenclothing.com. The brand uses disabled models, which can help customers picture how they’ll look in the clothes.

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