Many companies and designers struggle to invent something new in fashion, yet there is a huge market that is absolutely ignored. This market is people with disabilities. These people need fashionable and comfortable clothes, adjusted to their needs. Why hasn’t this opportunity been explored in the fashion world? Well, there are lots of myths about this market, and with this post I hope to debunk most of them.
Myth #1: This is not a sexy topic
Fashion is all about glamour, and some people think that a person in a wheelchair can’t look glamorous, even if they wear fashionable clothes. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Below are pictures from the March 2014 “Fashion Without Borders” show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Russia.
Dozens of models with various disabilities displayed clothing designed especially for them. All of the models look striking, not because of the beautiful clothing, but because the garments helped to emphasize their strength and character. Add glamour to spirit and charisma, and you will always attract attention.
A men seen below is Sergey Shilov, a Russian cross-country skier, biathlete, and six-time Paralympic champion. This was his first time wearing a business suite.
Myth #2: Small market share
According to World Healthcare Organization (WHO), over a billion people are estimated to live with some form of disability. This corresponds to about 15% of the world’s population. Between 110 million (2.2%) and 190 million (3.8%) people 15 years and older have significant difficulties in function. The rates of disability are constantly increasing due to an aging population and an increase in chronic health conditions.
We also must include senior citizens and people with temporarily disabilities due to an injury. This is a huge market share that fashion companies need to recognize.
Myth #3: Most people with disabilities don’t need special clothes
When discussing people with disabilities, most of us think of people in wheelchairs. And it’s true that they do need special clothing that allows them to dress themselves without help, but what about the sight-impaired population, people with Down’s syndrome, and those with cerebral palsy? They also need special clothes.
German designer Christine Wolf has created a fashion collection for people with eye impairments called “To Be Read.” She uses beading and Braille script to provide information about a garment’s color, size, material, cleaning instructions, and even tips about mixing and matching.
For most people, the beautiful beading looks like an embellishment; but the design is a convenient add-on for the blind.
Finding clothing for people with Down’s syndrome is a challenging task due to their unique shape. They typically have a short thigh bone and upper arm bone, which can make sleeves and pants much too long. Russian designer Maria Sharoeva has created the fashion collection “May There Always Be Sunshine,” in which she provides clothing that is very cozy to wear, yet very stylish.
People with cerebral palsy (CP) face their own challenges relating to what they wear. Their dexterity is often poor, and they have difficulties with coordination. It’s challenging for them to maneuver small buttons and zippers, so providing them with larger buttons, special buckles, and easy-to-access zippers can facilitate the process of dressing and undressing.
These are only a few examples of clothing that are in high demand by the special needs community. You can see that each kind of disability has specific needs when it comes to clothing. There are so many unexplored areas in fashion design and production that could provide an answer to a growing population.
Myth #4: Clothing for disabled people cannot be mass produced
Above I’ve provide the pictures from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Russia (see more pictures here). Many prominent Russian designers took part in this show, providing fashion collections for people with special needs. And these designers have created the collections with the idea of mass production in mind. All clothing items were constructed with the ability to be manufactured in large quantities, one of the requirements for participation in Fashion Week.
If these collections were to go into mass production, many people with disabilities could buy and wear any of the items. And even if more adjustments were needed, it would still be much easier than shopping in the current market.
A market full of possibilities
Healthcare technology has become more and more advanced, producing lightweight and functional artificial limbs, “smart” wheelchairs, GPS for the visually impaired, and so on. Scientists work very hard to help people with disabilities become independent, confident, and live a normal life. But what about the fashion industry?
Fashion companies are probably too busy delivering a new collection every two weeks, chasing “typical” customers in an oversaturated market. And there is still a stereotype about fashion in general. It’s time to look around and see a huge market segment filled with endless possibilities. It’s time for the fashion industry to take special-needs customers seriously.