DISABILITY FASHION CONSULTANCY

Zappos Adaptive

Dressing with disabilities can be challenging. From body stiffness to painful flair-ups, headaches, skin sensitivity, dexterity challenges, mobility challenges, design limitations and so much more. This is why I adore Zappos Adaptive (ZA) it’s a one-stop-shop for healthwear, footwear, and clothing designed with disability in mind.

As a disability fashion stylist, I suggest ZA to my clients for foundational pieces to aid in building a closet of looks that meet the standards of my Disability Fashion Styling System™ looks that are

  • Accessible – Easy to put on and take off
  • Smart – Smart for their health (medically safe)
  • Fashionable – they love it and it works well with their body type and lifestyle.

On ZA you’ll see some familiar brands for sure, but you’ll also be introduced to a whole new group of innovative designers who value people with disabilities as fashion customers. The fact is attitudinal barriers are why there so few bridge, designer, and luxury brands manufacturing adaptive clothing. As I said in my TEDx Talk, “You can’t design for someone you don’t see, and you can’t see someone you don’t value as a fashion customer”.

The Pre-COVID 19 fashion industry was beginning to acknowledge people with disabilities in real tangible ways. Last year alone the fashion industry gatekeepers were including stories about dressing with disabilities, Tommy Hilfiger presented a groundbreaking fashion show with Zendaya and her stylist Law Roach, that actually included models with disabilities in the audience dressed in adaptive versions of the looks on the runway. Tommy.com, also quietly with no fanfare, featured the entire Zendaya line, including the curvy and adaptive collections together on the header of the eCommerce site the night of the fashion show. Another important first was the addition of Sinèad Burke, disability advocate and little woman to the masthead of British Vogue as a contributing editor.

There is no doubt the wheels of change are turning, but in the 1950s – 1970s unlike today there was an actual functional fashion movement. The movement was championed by the trailblazing New York Times fashion editor,  Virginia Pope, and designed by Helen Cookman with assistance from occupational therapist Murriel Zimmerman, According to Adeline Hoffman, author of Clothing for the Handicapped, the Aged, and Other People with Special Needs published in 1979, There were approximately 30 designers who designed clothing based on Helen Cookman’s patterns. The clothing was then sold in catalogs under the functional fashion label. Today premiere Canadian designer IZ Camilleri and esteemed American designer Tommy Hilfiger are the two most notable designers with adaptive brands. Will COVID 19 push designers to begin to think about increasing their market share and designing with people with disabilities in mind? I’m hopeful, and I actually believe the future of adaptive design is universal design for a variety of body types within one collection. 

Photo Credit: Brad Swonetz for Zappos Adaptive, Styled by Stephanie Thomas

On April 27th Zappos Adaptive celebrated its third year anniversary. I’m really proud of the work they’ve done and the lives they’ve changed. I’m a fan of ZA and honored to collaborate with the team. One of the collaborations I’m most proud of is the small size collaboration. Little people are mostly left out of the conversation of dressing with disabilities, but ZA actually lists small sizes as a shoppable category on their home page for people living with dwarfism. A page I’ve curated and continue to provide insight on.

Last year something amazing happened, not only was I added to the BoF500 list of global leaders moving the fashion industry forward along with the fabulous Jillian Mercado but during Paris Fashion Week at the Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées, I spoke at the inaugural Business of Fashion Symposium on a panel with Jillian that was moderated by Sinèad. A huge thanks to Imran Amed, Founder and CEO of Business of Fashion and the entire BoF team that participated in providing such an important platform for an authentic discussion on diversity.

I am encouraged that the industry is headed in the right direction and even in a post-COVID 19 era Zappos Adaptive will serve as an outlet for new brands interested in adaptive fashion.

Photo Credit: Featured image for this post by Brad Swonetz for Zappos Adaptive Styled by Stephanie Thomas

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