Fashion for all
Designers worldwide are putting their knowledge to use and working on apparel and footwear for the differently-abled. We talk to those working on clothes for Parkinson's, Down Syndrome, the wheel-chair bound and visually challenged
When she started her career in design in 2002, designer Nivedita Saboo employed a handful of girls with speech and hearing impairment to do beadwork. "They don't get work as household help. Seventeen years hence, they are still with us," says Saboo. And though they don't require aid while picking out their clothes or wearing them, there are numerous other conditions and symptoms that make a differently-abled wearer uncomfortable. Or just look awkward.
Uzair Parvez Khan
She was keen to tweak usual styles and enable fashion to find a solution. Earlier this year, Saboo worked with Ekansh — an NGO for the differently-abled in Munnar run by Anita Iyer — on a project that aimed to make life easier for patients across 21 different conditions, while also ensuring that the line didn't stand out like an eyesore. "We invited fashion students from 13 Indian colleges to work on these ideas.
Nivedita Saboo with models showcasing her acid attack survivor collection
There's a need in the industry to evolve, in order to make this mainstream and sustainable. So, every student worked with a mentor who has a condition, and figured out what works," she recaps. Saboo had also created a collection for acid attack survivors last year. She and a few other Indian design houses are working towards making lives easier for Indians with special needs.
Wheelchair-bound > Ease first
Putting on clothes can be tricky if you are wheelchair-bound; making the right cuts and types of fastening is crucial. Madhya Pradesh-based House of Ameya has come out with a line for such customers, which can also be altered as per their needs.
"We provide soft padding at the hip and knee to help moisture absorption and cushioning for comfort as people can be prone to skin irritation. There are concealed zippers on the sides so pants can be opened without having to lift the person, which is crucial if the person has gained weight.
Akanksha (left) and Meenakshi with their velcro pants design
The fastening is provided at the back or front and we use velcro or hooks which are easier to manage. We avoid zippers on shirts and T-shirts as they could malfunction," say designers Meenakshi Singh Baghel and Akansha Chouhan, directors and co-founders, of the fashion labe;. They have also introduced dungarees that have openings till the crotch area with magnet buttons, which helps men use the washroom with ease. For those who face single limb challenges, they provide an elastic catch at the back instead of the side zippers, and padding is only provided at the knee, otherwise it can be prone to mishaps.
Down's Syndrome > Fits fine
For Indore-based Uzair Parvez Khan, growing up watching family members live with Down Syndrome, was the inspiration that made him create a collection for them called Not Your Regular Style. "I used to see them struggle with eating and dressing up," says Khan, director and founder, Uzairs.
Dr BS Singhal
So, the collection they have includes hook-eye or velcro fastenings for ease. Another important factor is the use of rayon, soft cotton with synthetic blends and lightweight stretchable denims. "We use a lot of multicoloured, bright shades with prints, which look stylish and also cover food stains. We avoid cuffed sleeves and instead, opt for loose kurtas or full-sleeved t-shirts that can be rolled up easily. Also, padding over the knee, hip and elbow is basic to cushion injuries. Shoes are slip-on yet firmly-fitted. These changes help as they can't control their body movements, or have weak balance," he elaborates.
One of Saboo's designs and sketches for patients with Parkinson's
Parkinson's > Fluid lines
Saboo, who worked with Mumbai-based Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorder Society (PDMDS) for a fundraiser last year, observed the problems patients faced, which has resulted in the Shake it Up for Parkinson's 2019 fundraiser this weekend. "Movements like buttoning shirts or blouses, using zips, and making saree pleats can be a cumbersome affair. As the condition progresses, they can get stuck putting their arm into a sleeve, lose balance while wearing their pants or skirts and will find it impossible to put on their shoes," says Dr Bhim Sen Singhal, founder, PDMDS.
Presenting six solutions that include replacing soft-edged velcro and magnetic options (for those who don't have pacemakers) instead of buttons, on the inside and having bigger buttons stitched outside, Saboo promises to reduce the dressing up time span of 45 minutes to five. "The underwear is attached within the trousers, and also detachable so it can be washed. We have used elastic in pants and given a mock belt to ease their rounds to the washroom. We will also showcase pleated sarees that can be worn on like an elastic skirt," she adds.
Showing the way
Though the visually-impaired don't need altered clothing, there are simple hacks that can make life easier for them. Which is why the National Association For Blind (NAB), India, has trainers to teach people to fasten button and zips as well as tie shoelaces by touch. "Braille marking on clothes, such as a slit or stitched pattern, helps them distinguish the front from the back. Ironing clothes can be tricky. Though we teach them safe techniques, it's best if they buy one that switches off automatically or sounds an alarm if it's too hot," says Pallavi Kadam, executive director, NAB. They need someone to accompany them when they choose apparel for themselves as they can't figure out the style or colour.
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