Many people don't need to think twice about getting dressed. But for those with mobility issues or who require a caregiver to help them get ready, clothing that is ill-fitting and difficult to put on and take off causes daily frustration and can affect self-confidence.
A group of George Brown College fashion students, led by School of Fashion and Jewellery faculty member and adaptive clothing champion Milan Shahani, set out to change that with a research project that addressed accessibility, affordability and sustainability issues by adapting second-hand clothing for people with mobility limitations. Clothing with accessible openings, magnet fasteners, pockets, extra material in certain areas, and other features can make a big difference, Shahani says, and provide more independence.
Shahani partnered with The Pegasus Community Project, a Toronto organization that runs programs and events for adults with developmental disabilities. The group runs a second-hand store called The Pegasus Shoppe that helps fund its activities.
"We upcycled clothing from the thrift store and made it adaptive and affordable for all persons with disabilities, especially those with a limited income," Shanani said. She noted that many disabled people couldn't afford adaptive clothing made by large brands.
Shirin Fadavi, Erin James, Christina Powell, and Janelle Sookhai, students from the Fashion Techniques and Design program, conducted focus groups with people with limited mobility to figure out what types of challenges they were experiencing, what prices they could afford, and what kinds of clothing would make them feel comfortable and confident.
After analyzing the focus group data, the students created 75 adaptive garments priced at $25 or less. The garments will be available at The Pegasus Shoppe starting May 24.
Students inspired by the experience
Christina Powel said her experience working on this project exposed her to new perspectives regarding garment construction and design. She witnessed the pride felt by people with limited mobility when they could put on and take off garments her group created.
"To me, that hit home," she said. "The surprising thing about this whole experience is we all went into this project with our own life experiences. I didn't consider how non-inclusive clothes are and how they don't allow people to feel that pride of independence and comfort. We take these things for granted because we grab something out of the closet and put it on."
Erin James worked with a woman in the focus group who outlined what she needed to feel comfortable and confident in a shirt.
"With that information, I created this shirt with her details and the things she needed," James said. "It was cool because when she was presented with adaptive clothing options during the focus group, she picked that shirt I had created for her without prompting."
The experience inspired James to create a piece about accessibility for the Fibreworks art exhibition in Cambridge, Ont., this summer.
Sustainable adaptive clothing research funding
Funding for the sustainable adaptive clothing pilot project was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Development Grants — Shahani proudly noted George Brown was the only college that received the grant.
Shahani knows the positive effects on confidence and self-esteem functional clothing provides for people with mobility challenges. In 2019/20, she led a social innovation research project involving 12 women stroke survivors with partial paralysis. On that project, George Brown fashion students worked with occupational therapy students from the University of Toronto to design adaptive bras, blouses and jackets.