Accessibility and Fashion: Are Designers Starting to Listen?

In the foreground: A laptop with a jacket design on the screen. In the background: A design studio.Last summer Erin Hawley hosted a Thrive disability and fashion chat on what it means to be a fashionista in a society that doesn’t always consider the accessibility of clothing and style. In a post Erin wrote after the chat, she urged designers to consider accessibility as an integral part of their design process, and you know what? The designers are starting to listen.

Recently TED published a talk by fashion designer Mindy Scheier. She’d put in years of work in the fashion industry at the INC collection and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City before her son was born. Oliver was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at birth, and the degenerative disorder makes it difficult for him to dress himself or wear clothing with buttons or zippers.

When Oliver started school, Mindy and her husband dressed Oliver in sweatpants and a t-shirt for school every day — it was the easiest thing to do. But then one afternoon Oliver came home from school demanding he wear jeans to school like all the other kids.

Mindy stayed up the entire night reconfiguring a pair of jeans for Oliver — opening up the legs to accommodate his leg braces and replacing the zipper and button with a rubber band. The smile on her eight-year-old son’s face as he headed off to school the next morning inspired her to start designing for people who have a hard time getting dressed. And that eventually led to Runway of Dreams, the non-profit she launched to educate the fashion industry about the needs of differently abled people. “Rather than designing my own collection, I knew if I was really going to make a difference, I had to go mainstream,” she says in her talk. “I believed that I just needed to educate the industry of the enormity of this population and the fact that these were consumers that simply weren’t being considered.”

And Tommy Hilfiger listened. When Runway of Dreams collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger, they took Mindy Scheier’s vision to market, making fashion history by launching the first mainstream adaptive collection: Tommy Adaptive.

“And the rest is yet to come,” she says, updating listeners on her son:

Today, Oliver is 13. He wears his adaptive khakis, his magnetic button-front shirt — he feels like the coolest kid around. My boy has total swagger.


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