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The fashion industry has taken significant steps in the past decades to be more inclusive and sensitive towards people of colour, minorities and people with disabilities. Learn how Adaptive fashion is a step in the right direction.

Words By Varnika Srivastava


Adaptive Clothing
by Tommy Hilfiger

in Fashion

Fashion is so much more than how trendy our clothes or shoes are. It is an expression of freedom, a sentiment of acceptance and even a symbol of rebellion. As much power as it holds, the fashion industry has been accused of not being inclusive and sometimes even offensive towards women, people of colour, plus sizes and disabled people. Particularly for people with disabilities, fashion has always been a challenging space. Most fashion brands, luxury or otherwise, have not considered people with disabilities to be an important niche in their vast market. It is perhaps not shocking that the fashion industry is reluctant to outfit them, given that disabled people face much exclusion and discrimination in almost all arenas of life. However, the irony is that up to 20% of the fashion-buying population is compelled to lop off the legs of their trousers or pay twice as much on tailoring as the dress is worth. Adaptive Fashion is clothing made for people who have trouble dressing themselves. It ensures convenient options for people with disabilities, such as magnetic closures instead of buttons, hidden zips and tube entry, and is essential for maintaining convenience, ease of dressing, and integrity. Adaptive fashion is thus a monumental step in making fashion more inclusive. 

As the debate around inclusivity in apparel has heated up in recent years (searches for adaptive fashion rose by 80% in 2019, according to fashion platform Lyst), brands including UGGs and American Eagle have replied by introducing adaptive clothing lines, which are customizable, affordable, and usable for people with a range of physical and cognitive disabilities. Zappos has gained the admiration of the adaptive-wear consumer for its disruptive philosophy of approving single shoe purchases, as well as its quick returns policy and supportive customer advice. Tommy Hilfiger is the most well-known company that caters to the disabled, with an adaptive range available for purchasing online. Adaptive apparel, as the name implies, is built to suit a variety of circumstances and desires. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every four people in the United States (26%) has “some type of disability”. Though their clothing requirements are likely to be complex, they are all motivated by a need to look fashionable and express themselves through fashion.

Antonio Urzi 

Antonio Urzi 

Recent times have seen innovation when it comes to adapting clothing for people with special needs. Consider where seams and zippers are placed when constructing clothes for wheelchair users, since consumers may develop dangerous sores if their skin is dug into. To stop chafing, stylist Stephanie Thomas suggests denim without back pockets. Meanwhile, Zappos reports that autistic consumers have accepted sneakers without laces and tops with magnetic closures. Others of autism gravitate toward products without labels, which may be distressing for those with sensory processing issues. In fact, the global market value for adaptive fashion is an expected $400 billion by 2026. The world even watched in awe when ‘Runway of Dreams’, a runway show by people with disabilities, took place during New York Fashion Week 2019 A/W, and Midashinami Club, an H&M Japan-funded initiative where children with developmental disabilities are taught how to wear. These are two examples of events organized around the world to demonstrate that fashion knows no bounds.


The importance of diversity

The impact of Adaptive fashion goes beyond inclusivity.
The importance of diversity, which has become prevalent in society at the same time, is another essential feature of adaptive fashion.
This has had a
synergistic impact, raising awareness of the urge of responding to minorities’ concerns and dissatisfaction.
Its influence can also be seen in the fact that models on the runway are now a diverse group of people who are not limited by colour, body type, or gender.
While still in its infancy, trends developed for adaptive fashion are becoming mainstream.
Furthermore, they can go beyond being clothing for people with disabilities to becoming ready-to-wear clothing for the modern age, which able-bodied people may also wear comfortably.

A niche market

It is without a doubt that adaptive fashion has made significant strides in the past few years.
However, it still remains a niche market that is failing to attract audiences, despite positive figures and multicultural product releases.
According to a recent
New York Times investigation, algorithms on sites like Facebook and Instagram systematically ban adaptive fashion ads.
The rest of the time, it comes down to substance misidentification: products advertising medical equipment are immediately rejected due to compliance violations.

The role of technology

Technology is an impediment to the adaptive wear industry in this field, yet when applied correctly, it has tremendous potential. Experts say that adaptive wear will unintentionally exacerbate inequalities among disabled people due to high prices, long waiting lists, and lack of affordability in developing countries. Companies are governed by commercial rewards, which prioritize benefit over having unrestricted access. It begs the issue of whether consumerism can be associated with products that are a necessity for many.