Home Featured Adapt to adaptive clothing

Adapt to adaptive clothing

by Luqmaan Rawat

Laura Wagner-Meyer is focused on her end goal – providing people with trendy clothing suitable to their needs
Photo – Supplied

Johannesburg – Have you ever tried buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces with one hand? Ever tried putting on jeans while sitting? These are difficulties people face every day. Adaptive clothing aims to ease these difficulties.

If you haven’t heard about adaptive clothing before, you are not the only one. Adaptive clothing refers to pieces of clothing designed to be easy to use. It has been around since the 1980’s. At that time, it was basic as a few manufacturers were producing the items. It had an uncomplicated design. Double panels at the back prevented the client’s back from being exposed, while the front gave the impression of an everyday outfit. These panels were tied using Velcro at the shoulders which allowed people with reduced mobility to easily wear and remove the clothing.

That was in the past. As time moved on, adaptive clothing developed, moving from basic designs to looking like regular clothes. Laura Wagner-Meyer, a fashion designer, who designs clothes for disabled women spoke with Salaamedia’s Maryam Mkwanda. What once was a hobby for Wagner-Meyer has grown into a career.

Wagner-Meyer was born with a congenital neural tube defect which means her spine did not form correctly and as such, she has severe kyphoscoliosis and uses crutches to walk. Despite this, she led a limitless childhood. Her love for fashion started at an early age.

“I always just had an interest in it [fashion], like a natural interest. Where I’d always be flipping through magazines because I wanted to see what celebrities were wearing. I love the idea of pop culture and being able to absorb yourself in trends … It was more of a hobby, something that I would just do in my spare time but as soon as I realised it could be a career, I immediately applied. I started studying towards my BA in fashion and actually just haven’t looked back.”

For those who live with reduced mobility, finding something to wear on a night out or a formal event can be quite difficult. Wagner-Meyer expressed her frustration at the lack of adaptive clothing for offer in South Africa.

“I’m able to find things but it is a very frustrating process. It takes a lot of time to be able to find basic items. If I decide to go on a night out, it takes a lot of planning to try and figure out what I’m going to wear. Is it going to be flattering because the brands that we have are also quite limiting in terms of sizing and fit? I do have a bit of a challenge when it comes to just finding items that I also feel comfortable in. I’m having to layer a lot of items for example just so that I can feel secure and protected in clothing.”

With all these hurdles to finding clothes and the lack of fashionable adaptive clothing available, Wagner-Meyer set out to change that by creating her company called Younique.

Younique was actually my graduate collection for my final year. It was an imaginative collection. That was my starting point on how to figure out how to actually meet the needs of people with disabilities. I realised that we don’t have an adapted clothing line for people with disabilities in, not only South Africa, but Africa. The lines that we do see are in the US and UK. It’s not anywhere near us. I used that as my starting point to interact with people with disabilities and understand what needs need to be met.”

Wagner-Meyer describes her brand as something with a more feminine touch. Her goal is to make clothes that make the wearer feel empowered and beautiful.

“I think personally I’m very feminine and ideally, I design with a very feminine touch. It’s something that I find exciting. I want people to look at this brand and just see beautiful things in front of them. I want people with disabilities to just feel empowered and really confident in what they’re wearing.”

It has not been an easy task to go about designing adaptive clothes. Wagner-Meyer must consider many distinct aspects. Such as conditions causing hypersensitivity to many things including certain fabrics. Wagner-Meyer designs her clothes case-by-case as different people are sensitive to different things and she caters to all their needs.

“As we’re working through and developing these collections, I’m really putting a lot of thought into other people’s personal preferences. We all like different styles and different fabrics and materials … It’s a lot of research that’s going into that kind of finding that middle ground that works for everyone.”

Unfortunately, Wagner-Meyer is just one person and while her contribution is appreciated, she has called on big brands in South Africa to make and stock adaptive clothing. To her, even a little is a lot.

“I think any attempt to [stock adaptive clothing] would be closing the gap and getting a step closer. The problem now is that people with disabilities aren’t being thought of as a targeted demographic. That’s just you know something that just hasn’t worked in our favour. Fashion has such a pivotal role in influencing and reflecting social change.  I think we can see this attitude towards people’s disabilities just how fashion portrays us and the current lines that we do see overseas. It’s not as appealing as one would have thought and we do have a long way to go but because people are thinking about it and we’re creating that awareness we are getting closer.”

There’s a serious market for adaptive clothing which is growing steadily. In the past few years clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, American Eagle and Ugg have started to offer adaptive clothing. It is reported that by 2026 the global market for adaptive clothing is expected to be valued at $400 billion. Adaptive clothing is not only for those who are disabled but also for the elderly.

An innovation that has been brought to the adaptive clothing market is MagZip, created by Under Armour. Instead of buttons they have adopted a magnetic zipper in clothing which uses magnets to connect the ends of the zip making it easier for a one-handed person to do up. Another is Nike’s Go FlyEase which loses the laces entirely and instead uses a hinge design. The wearer steps into the shoe and the hinge keeps them secured. Open Bionics use 3D printing to create their Hero Arm which is powered by muscle movements. The company allows users to customise the design as well.

The adaptive clothing market serves a monetary purpose and a humanitarian purpose. Not only can it create more jobs and boost the economy of a country, but its greater purpose is helping those who lack mobility and give them the dignity to wear clothing and accessories that suit them and make them feel part of the community.

Laura Wagner-Meyer, a fashion designer, spoke with Maryam Mkwanda about her adaptive clothing range:

Related Videos