Fashion for all abilities

August 18, 2017

Shopping for and choosing clothes is challenging enough, but for people with some forms of disability it’s even harder. Finding a shirt that’s easy to put on or pants that fit a catheter comfortably isn’t easy. And, as for rain gear? That’s another story.  

Open Styles Lab (OSL) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to solving these issues by making style and clothing accessible to people of all abilities. OSL, founded  by Dr. Grace Teo and Alice Tin, and initially funded as a public service project by MIT in 2014, runs in collaboration with Parsons School of Design in New York City. Students and faculty members of diverse disciplines partner to develop innovative design solutions  for a range of disabilities including autism, impaired vision, cerebral palsy, and paralysis.

This summer, students selected for the intensive 10-week course worked with engineers, physical therapists, and people of varying abilities to create clothing for four people with spinal cord injuries.

“I wanted to show that no two people with the same disability are alike,” Grace Jun, OSL’s executive director told Vogue Magazine. “We talked a lot about the user experience, asking clients what subway line they take, how they navigate New York City, and what their day involves, to [reinforce] that design is a holistic process.”

OSL ends with a fashion showcase, where each team of students presents  their projects to a panel of judges, who award a monetary prize to one winner to fund the production of their garment. This summer, “Q x Go,” a rain jacket system designed for Q, a vivacious New Yorker who works for the New York City Department of Transportation took first prize. Q’s main complaint about rain coats was that his lap and the armrests of his wheelchair always get wet, so his team designed a waterproof jacket with removable 3-D printed side panels to zip over the armrests. One of the panels has a folded, detachable blanket inside, which zips into the jacket to cover Q’s legs—problem solved. The jacket also has rounded sleeves for extra arm-bending room; an interior drawstring cuff to keep water from getting in; anti-abrasion fabrics to avoid wear and tear by the wheels; bonded pockets and seams; and is made of a surprisingly breathable, waterproof Polartec fabric.

We chose the winner based on the garment’s universal application,” Jun said. “If you’re only targeting the disability market, it’s hard to be inclusive of others.” She believes that companies need to consider how their garments will work for both customers who walk into their store and those who happen to be in a wheelchair.

“I do see brands from Prada and Burberry to Uniqlo eventually designing rain jackets that someone who’s in a wheelchair and someone who isn’t can both wear,” says Jun. “We’re getting older, living longer. We should see disability as part of our lifecycle because it will start to affect more people.”

For more information on OSL, read the full article in Vogue Magazine.

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