Clothes are often credited as a source of telling the world about who we are, our personalities, what we like or dislike. For some, like those in wheelchairs (just like those with Down Syndrome), it can be a form of expression that they cannot access with similar ease. The challenges of dressing while being in a permanently seated position might not appear large in number, but there’s a whole scope of factors to consider. This is where most clothing designs fall short. For Toronto designer Izzy Camilleri, it was also the realization that a new way to interpret clothes could be established with her IZ Adaptive Clothing line.
Over the past seven years, Camilleri has approached the unseen issues facing wheelchair users with their fashion options. “There are so many elements; it’s not just about bunching,” she says. “It’s about health issues as well.” Aesthetic touches such as back pockets on jeans can cause pressure sores; pants can dig into the front of the body while sitting and, because of how they’re cut, they can cut off breathing for some conditions. Even the thickness of a fabric can cause unanticipated complications.
So, how does a designer go about creating clothes for a body of people largely ignored by the fashion industry? Camilleri illustrates the challenges of executing such a line through re-working a traditional pattern design tool called “blocks.” While clothes for able-bodied people are made with standing position blocks where the garments fall straight up and down, in this case the clothes are specifically modified to a seated frame. The “blocks” adapt design lines to accommodate sitting, even modifying the back to be open and split in two, making the garments easier to put on while still meeting a stylish finish.
While the approach to a construction rooted in practicality presents its own challenges, there have been aesthetic hurdles in developing the line as well. The approach to fashion for people with disabilities has been geared far more towards function, not sexiness or style. But times they are a’changing and according to Camilleri, interest has been growing since she’s started her line. As awareness surrounding disability grows, so does its consciousness in the fashion conversations. Adaptive fashion is about offering a standard and quality item that reflects individual needs without being in contention of them.
“It gives me an opportunity to step out of the box and just kind of create my own box, learn more, and it’s made me a more compassionate person as well. Understanding the challenges that people have, whether it’s from an accident, something they are born with, or something they develop through time such as MS. It’s great that we can help people with their clothes.”
text by Lindsay Junkin
pictures from IZ Adaptive Clothing website