Adaptive Fashion – my experience as an able bodied young adult

4 adaptive models wearing tommy adaptive clothing range

Recently we had the pleasure of working with a group of 4th Year Occupational Therapy Students from Deakin University in Geelong, Australia. Each of these students spent 3 months with us delving into the world of adaptive design, fashion and assistive technology. One of our students was honored to take out the prize for best presentation sharing her perspectives on adaptive fashion with her graduating class. We would love to share it with you.

By Madi Jones

If I think back to my early teenage years one of my favourite things to do on school holidays was to get a group of my friends and take the one-hour bus to the next town, where we could find a bigger shopping centre then country target. Now for me this was so much fun! It gave me and my friends a sense of freedom, maturity and just enjoying trying on clothes and having fun. Then when I got home my poor mother would have to put up with my little fashion show, where I would put on all my new clothes and show her how many different ways I could wear them so she wouldn’t get too mad about me spending more of my money on clothes “I didn’t need”.

But Imagine, if myself or one of my friends required clothes that were adaptive. I imagine these trips would not be nearly as enjoyable for that person. When we finally got to the shopping centre where would we shop? Yes, most shopping centres are accessibility friendly but what about accessing, cramped stores filled with racks and racks of clothes that just are not appropriate or change rooms that are not big enough for a wheelchair or even just high displays that make it impossible for wheelchair users to access without assistance.

Then once I got home trying to convince my mum that my shopping trip was necessary by saying, now imagine this jacket when its hemmed to cater for my adaptive body shape or my wheelchair or these jeans are practical and I can wear them with everything but whilst I’m sitting in my wheelchair they are two short or leave my lower back exposed. I don’t think she would have appreciated it much as I would have to also pay for the alterations or make her do it. I think about this and what it would feel like to be in this situation and all it does is make me feel so privileged that I don’t have these issues and so uneducated that I have never researched adaptive fashion, I would be oblivious to these challenges.

Over the last 3 months I have been researching adaptive fashion, whilst doing so I have come across companies that make adaptive clothes that are fashionable and practical. This made me feel hopeful that there are companies that are accessible to those who need it and giving them an option to express themselves through their clothes choosing designs that work for them. But then I started looking a bit deeper and feelings of frustration started to creep in as themes started to emerge. Not all, but some of these companies had maybe 5 options of different styles of clothing, the price was way over anything I would buy unless it was a nice occasion and worst of all, most of these companies did not ship to Australia. This is not okay!

I have a challenging body and when it comes to buying bathers, I prepare myself and whoever I’m shopping with, to be ready for full-on tears and tantrums when I can’t find bathers that fit me that I like. I can guarantee that if I wasn’t as picky with a style or design I probably wouldn’t get as upset but this happens 90% of the time. The difference is for me that I eventually find a store that has bathers that I like and that fit as I have options to do so. Those who need, not even just want but need these adapted clothes do not have the opportunity to be a picky and that is not fair especially for the young teenager who just wants to go to the shopping centre with her friends on the school holidays or buy that item of clothing that suits them in every way with the ease, options, and accessibility as everyone else.

According to the Australian Bureau of statistics approximately one in five Australians reported having a disability in 2015. All these people need clothes why are we not catering for them? Why do brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Nike provide adapted clothes to the US but not to Australia?

In researching this topic, it gave me the opportunity to explore a topic that I had never heard of or considered. This has reminded me that I am still yet to experience and be exposed to so many different aspects of occupational therapy and the different types of assistive technology and how it can influence the lives of those who need it. It has also reminded me to ensure that I am taking a holistic approach when working with a client and to not overlook the “little” occupations that we do every day without a second thought, such as getting dressed in the morning.