The fashion industry is known for being rather exclusive, but that is beginning to change. The future of the industry may lie in adaptive fashion: clothing designed to be put on easily, regardless of one’s physical abilities, with features such as wide neck openings, open backs, and Velcro and clips replacing buttons and zips.
No two people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) follow the same journey. Whereas some may not need adaptive clothing at all, others are interested in being fashion-forward with clothing that’s easier to put on and take off.
“People’s style is their self-identity. They still want to feel youthful and express who they are, rather than just dressing for ease,” wrote Serena Grove, director at Caring Clothing, who solidified her adaptive fashion business when a long-time friend with MS started to use a wheelchair. “Often the ease takes out the fashion and the fun. That is what we are trying to bring back. It is really important to me, the way we express ourselves is the way we dress. I don’t see why, because we get to a certain age, or we might need assistance, that we can’t maintain that self-identity throughout our lives.”
More designers are realizing there is a market for stylish, adaptive clothing. Several new brands, such as The Able Label and Social Surge, are filling a gap that has existed in the industry for too long. Cur8able offers style consultations for people with disabilities. Each company’s founder and brand has a different backstory and mission, reflecting the diverse needs and tastes of people living with a disability.
Social Surge aims to push the boundaries of clothing’s functionality and its gendered nature. The company’s co-founder, Meredith Aleigha Wells, describes herself as nonbinary and disabled. In a recent interview with Who What Wear, Wells said, “We take a slightly different approach known as universal design or creating clothing usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”
The Able Label was founded by Katie Ellis, who observed the difficulties her grandmother went through with clothing after developing Parkinson’s disease. In an interview with Multiple Sclerosis Trust, Ellis explained, “The Able Label was born to help all those in the same situation as my grandmother — who do not want to, and should not have to, sacrifice their fashion for functional clothes.”
No matter what your fashion goals are, adaptive clothing is finally gaining increased attention and offering all of us more chances for self-expression.