The “adaptivewear” dresses the differences

Alain Zanchetta, 32, is an industrial designer. Because he has had cerebral palsy since birth, he quickly became interested in the needs of people in wheelchairs. In 2016, while a student at the University of Art and Design in Lucerne, he developed a canvas bag fixed on a rigid, stable leather tray, easy to put on the knees. Made in Ticino from sustainable materials, the accessory allows you to shop independently and can be worn on the shoulder, slung or attached to the wheelchair.

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Called Transporta, it has another advantage: it is sober, elegant and cool. So much so that today Atozed, Alain Zanchetta’s brand, has several valid clients, won over by its universal design. “We all want to wear practical and pretty things, whatever the limits of our body”, emphasizes the designer.

When the wheel turns

Fashion took a long time to integrate this message. Despite its promises to democratize beauty and chic, the ready-to-wear industry has continued to standardize the sizes and shapes of clothing for the sake of performance. De facto excluded from contemporary creation, people with disabilities were confined, at best, to purely functional pieces, drab tracksuits and big scratch shoes at the head of the gondola. Today, the style wheel is turning.

In 2017, Tommy Hilfiger became the first world-famous designer to offer his creations for all types of disabilities, without sacrificing the sportswear look and logos of his brand. A year later, Asos, an online ready-to-wear giant, marketed a rainbow-colored waterproof tracksuit, optimized for women in wheelchairs but designed for everyone.

Water drops

On the flourishing market of sneaker (sports shoe intended for city use), Nike launched in early 2021 the first shoe to slip on without hands and without bending down, a model with particularly futuristic lines. In the ocean of globalized fashion, these initiatives combining inclusion and aesthetics are just drops of water. But the wave has started.

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Fine in wheelchair

Since 2013 and the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, which killed more than a thousand workers working for Western brands, fashion has had to reinvent itself. By seeking to become more responsible, she understood that it was also necessary to serve the communities not represented by her standards of beauty.

“Moreover, all over the world, activists carry the voice of these minority groups through social networks, the media also echoing their messages”, analyzes Teresa Maranzano, active for ten years within the Swiss association ASA-Mental Handicap. In 2019, in close collaboration with people with various types of disabilities, she launched “Tu es canon”, a program to promote inclusive fashion through seminars, a blog, or the publication ofa national manifesto.

Sense of belonging

Beyond moral considerations, the commercial potential of fashion adapted to different types of disabilities (adaptivewear in globish language) is colossal. According to Inclusion Handicap, the umbrella organization of Swiss organizations for people with disabilities, some 1.7 million people living in our country have a disability, i.e. more than one in five people. And, according to the American company Coherent Market Insight, the global market foradaptivewear is expected to exceed $ 392 billion in 2026 (compared to $ 278.87 billion in 2017).

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There remains the thorny question: what can style do in the face of handicap? Can we decently think that a beautiful jacket or a pretty dress contributes to the well-being of an individual suffering from physical or cognitive limitations? Or is it a validist and mercantile projection? “Like the rest of the population, some people care about their looks, others don’t. I also think that the desire for fashion appears once you have accepted your handicap. In these cases, dressing alone and according to your own tastes helps to develop autonomy and the feeling of belonging to society, ”Alain Zanchetta suggests.

Magnets on kimono

Maud Leibundgut speaks of a “revelation”. Last year, this psychologist participated in a workshop on inclusive fashion organized by the Haute Ecole d’Art de Design in Geneva (HEAD), on the mandate of ASA-Handicap mental. Thanks to many discussions, about fifteen students have imagined an outfit and accessories adapted to the reduced mobility of his left arm. And to his desires. A t-shirt with no face or back, a kimono with magnetic buttons, an ergonomic opening strap. Unheard of for the 41-year-old model, used to choosing her “default” clothes in fashion boutiques. “A field of possibilities opened up to me. These beautiful clothes give me a look and allow me to assert myself as a woman. “

New standards

It will be understood: fully “adaptive”, functional and stylish fashion assumes that designers are exposed to all types of bodies. Immovable bodies, spastic bodies, blind bodies, deaf bodies. So that the differences forge the standards of creation, and not the other way around.

This is all about MOB Industries. Founded in 2019 in Vienna, this fashion label with accents streetwear offers a wide range of clothing optimized for wheelchair users. “Our pieces are developed from the first second with people with physical or cognitive disabilities. Their demands – magnetic buttons, elastic waistlines, the absence of back pockets on the trousers – constitute our standards, which are then adapted for everyone, ”explains co-founder Josefine Thom, stressing that these characteristics also offer valuable advantages for able-bodied people.

Louana Aladjem is convinced: the experience of people with disabilities can change our own relationship to clothing. For her Bachelor collection (2020), this fashion student at HEAD spoke with several blind people to develop outfits adapted to their daily lives. Jacket with topstitched patterns, flocked velvet pants, dress printed with sentences in Braille or QR code labels on the sleeves for an audio description of the garment: so many details that generate an hyperconsciousness of materials and shapes, as the one is seeing or not.

“By rediscovering and developing our tactile sensitivity, we pay more attention to the composition of clothes. Ultimately, this could encourage us to consume more responsibly, ”explains the designer. In fashion as elsewhere, adaptation is not a one-way street.

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