4 myths about fashion for people with disabilities

Fashion for people with disabilitiesMany 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.

Fashion for people with disabilities

Fashion for people with disabilities

Fashion for people with disabilities

Fashion for people with disabilities

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.

Fashion for people with disabilities

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.

Fashion for people with disabilities

http://www.bezgraniz-couture.com/?page_id=964&lang=en

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.

http://www.bezgraniz-couture.com/?page_id=964&lang=en

http://www.bezgraniz-couture.com/?page_id=964&lang=en

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.

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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.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Men’s closet checklist according to online stylists

In my last post I complained that we don’t have a service like Thread in the U.S.  I was wrong – we have it.  Cincinnati startup Cladwell offers free online styling recommendations for men who are tired of wandering aimlessly around Macy’s looking for something to buy.

What is Cladwell?        

online stylists

Just like its British counterpart, Cladwell combines human stylists with intelligent algorithms.  Cladwell stylists select clothing from thousands of brands and emerging designers, and algorithms match these items to your measurements and preferences.

And Cladwell is easy to use.  First, you go to the website and provide some information about yourself, including your body size, type, and eye and hair color.  Cladwell will also ask you about your style preferences and budget.  Then you select what kind of clothing you want, and the algorithm will provide you with three recommendations that closely match your profile.  These will link you to online retailers so you can buy any item you like, or just save it for later.

You might wonder if certain brands give Cladwell greater profits.  Don’t worry — Cladwell states that their personal profits have nothing to do with promoting one brand over another.

The Cladwell service is free, and you have no obligation to buy anything.

Closet checklist for men

Men are not that bad at buying clothes, but many men (and women too!) would rather browse items and buy something that strikes their fancy, than think strategically about building the whole wardrobe.

CladwellCloset

Cladwell is here to help.  They are launching a new service – a minimal closet checklist for men.  The idea is about creating a simple wardrobe based on your lifestyle, job, interests, and other factors.  The wardrobe will include only items that fit and suite you, and can be included in multiple outfits.

How does it work?

Based on you profile, Cladwell will offer you a clothing checklist, from jeans and shorts to suits and coats.  Now that you have the roadmap, you can start making changes.  First, purge your closet of all of the items you don’t like or never wear.  Then review the rest of the clothes and start checking items off your list.  Let’s say there are 45 total items on your checklist and you already have 30 of the 45 items in good condition — you need to buy only the remaining 15 items and you’re done.

Get dressed on autopilot and still look good!

Isn’t this a dream of most men?  Cladwell promises to create a guide that will categorize the clothing you own, what items you wore last, and what your calendar looks like.  Based on this information, it can select the best outfit for you every day.

What does Cladwell mean for men?

Cladwell CMO Eric Sztanyo states, “We’re here to say, ‘Hey, you’ll look good in this.  Buy these things, and then stop.’  We’re not here to lock a guy into perpetual shopping.  We want to make shopping easier and for him to feel empowered with his clothes, so that he can get on with life.”

I’m absolutely sold on the idea of a closet checklist for men.  This service is a great tool that helps men dress well and look appropriate in any situation, all while avoiding the hassles of shopping.

 

Posted in New Technologies

A personal online stylist for free…are you interested?

Have you ever felt overwhelmed while shopping online?  Unlike brick-and-mortar stores, the internet offers countless choices.  So how do you choose what’s best for you?

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I wouldn’t mind getting some guidance in this area from a professional stylist, and I’m sure I’m not alone.  Many people struggle with online shopping, especially men. The UK-based startup Thread and US-based LookLab saw this as a business opportunity.  These companies offer free style advice to their busy customers.

Thread

It was the first time in a while that I’d registered with a male profile, for the sake of research–I wanted to try the new personal stylist service offered by Thread.  So far, their services are limited to those who live in the UK, and it’s just for men.  Sorry ladies.

I provided measurements, color and style preferences, and budget limits.  I didn’t upload a photo, but Thread recommended doing so to do for a more customized visit.  Then I was paired with a stylist, Brooke, who quickly emailed me the first five sets of styling ideas.

online stylist for men

Well, I liked the sets.  Not everything, but I would definitely recommend some of the pieces to the men in my life.  The sets include some seasonal pieces that can be mixed and matched with many different items.  Brooke asked me for honest feedback about the direction she was going so “we can take it from there.”  The service will be sending me five new looks every week.  Sounds promising!  But how can Thread provide this service for free?

online stylist for men

Thread built a scalable personal styling service with a blend of human stylists and intelligent algorithms.  The company has two full-time stylists and 40 freelancers who hand-pick the outfits for the company’s database and answer customers’ questions.  So Brooke didn’t handpick my outfits–they were developed by the algorithm after searching through Thread’s database.

All items from suggested sets are available for purchase–you can buy the ones you like directly on Thread’s website.  This is convenient because you don’t need to waste time shopping around.  But there is a downside, too–the selection is limited by the brands that work with Thread. You don’t have to buy anything from Thread; but if you want to, shipping and returns are free, and you only pay if you decide to keep the items.  Users can also contact their stylists for specific advice or recommendations.

Well, I’m sold. I would definitely use Thread if they offered their services to women.  Unfortunately they are still a little hesitant about that.

So now let’s take a look at the US-based online styling service LookLab.

LookLab

Need to know how to pair black leather leggings?  Or do you need advice about what to wear for a photo shoot?  No problem!  Stylists from all over the world are ready to help you on LookLab.com.  This US-based company connects users to fashion insiders who offer free personalized shopping advice.

online stylist for men

Unlike Thread, LookLab provides fashion recommendations from real fashion insiders.  If you are a certified stylist, designer, fashion blogger, or someone who is associated with fashion and styling, you can apply to be a fashion insider.  You will get more visibility online and build your reputation as a fashion consultant.

LookLab insiders are independent, and choose products based on their personal taste.  Just like Thread, you can buy any of the stylists’ suggestions.  But LookLab doesn’t sell clothes directly through their website; they provide links to other vendors’ stores (for a fee, I suppose) where you can complete your transaction. That means LookLab can work with almost any vendor, and stylists are not limited in brand selection.

Awesome idea, don’t you think?  Most of the LookLab insiders are highly accomplished professionals with quite an impressive background in fashion.  For some reason, LookLab is not as popular as it should be in the fashion industry.  Folks, we need to hear more about you!

Thread and LookLab are not competitors, rather they complement each other.  While you can build your new style and shop for your entire wardrobe on Thread, you can get recommendations about mixing and matching items on LookLab.

In summary

These days, availability is not a problem–people have thousands of retail websites to choose from.  What they don’t have is the time and skills to choose the right outfit.  That’s why internet styling is the next big thing in the fashion industry.  What used to be an exclusive service for celebrities is fast becoming a complimentary service for everyone.

Posted in New Technologies

How can brands benefit from Polyvore?

A friend of mine, a successful marketing consultant, spends two or three hours a night on Polyvore.com.  She is really obsessed with making fashion collages and competing with other community members.  But two or three hours sounds a little excessive.  When I asked her why, she said that making sets allows her to relax away the stresses of her demanding job, and satisfies her urge to shop.  “It’s like a social club where everybody shares your interests!”  So what is Polyvore?

Top Fashion Sets   Polyvore

Concept

The idea behind the company is quite simple–Polyvore offers a tool that allows people to create collages or “sets” from clothes that they can find online.  You can “clip” a picture of any piece of clothing or accessory you like from any e-commerce website, and add it to your Polyvore set.

The great thing about Polyvore is that anyone with a great sense of style can have thousands of followers.  And it doesn’t matter where you live–whether in New York City or Podunk, U.S.A.–you can be a star!  On Polyvore you can express your creativity and love of fashion, and be appreciated for your talent.

Polyvore set

Polyvore

I like how Polyvore takes the stance of having no rules about combining products.  It’s great to see sets that combine famous brands with emerging designers’ pieces or off-the-rack.  The New Yorker called it “democratization of fashion,” and I’m whole-heartedly embracing this concept because it reflects the way people dress in real life: combining expensive and inexpensive clothing.

How can brands use Polyvore for business?

Polyvore started in 2006, but reached profitability only in 2011–it wasn’t easy to persuade large brands to cooperate with a small web startup.  And they’re still small, less than 50 people, but the online community they built is huge, with 20+ million visitors per month (more than Pinterest and Twitter combined).  And with 2.4+ million sets created each month, they are reaching over a billion hits!

In the beginning, the luxury brands didn’t find the idea of democratization of fashion attractive–they didn’t like the idea of their products being combined with inexpensive clothing and accessories.  But now brand like Burberry and Gucci are finally beginning to understand Polyvore’s potential, and can no longer resist the chance to benefit from this new trend.

There are several ways brands can benefit from using Polyvore.

1. New referral traffic to the brand’s e-commerce website

The sets that people make are actually user-generated ads.  And you can shop for anything you see on Polyvore–they are linked back to each brand’s e-commerce website, which can drives sales.  Polyvore receives a transaction fee for each sale made as a result of using their site.

To get direct sales from Polyvore is not easy, and it takes time and work.  You have to build a complete profile, regularly upload items, categorize them, and start interacting with users.  I prefer following your favorite Polyvore members or organize contests, which engage fans by having them create sets that follow a certain theme.

2. Brand advertisement

You can’t buy a banner on Polyvore’s website; it’s just not that simple.  However, Polyvore offers each brand several paid advertising opportunities. On Polyvore, brands can promote their sets and products in users’ streams, as well as in the “Editor” and “Shop” sections.

3. Analytics

As Polyvore’s traffic grows, they have begun to realize how much valuable information about viewers’ preferences they already have.  So why not use this to their advantage?  Polyvore offers companies an analytic tool that lets them track every single product they have on Polyvore.  The tool is packaged with intelligence reports on the site.  This information will help brands to better understand their customers, potential leads, and competitors.  Designers can actually get feedback much earlier on collections or specific pieces, and can use that information in the design process.

4. Visibility

People like to share their Polyvore sets on Facebook and other social networks. Companies can better engage and gain more visibility from their fans on the social media platforms. Community-based websites like Polyvore are fantastic for engaging new fans and communicating with customers.  This channel could be even more effective that the traditional social network platform.  Don’t miss this opportunity!

Posted in Marketing Strategies

Business clothing with super power

Have you ever thought how impractical our clothes are?  Spill coffee on your shirt and you’ll ruin your early morning presentation.  If you bicycle to work, take a clean shirt with you.  And you’ll have to clean your dress shirt after wearing it once or twice.  So how come we can wear Google glasses but still have to iron our shirts every day?

Well, things have begun to move in the right direction.  Some young startups have taken the challenge to create a new generation of clothing.

Ministry of Supply (MOS)

Boston-based company Ministry of Supply liked the idea of riding a bicycle to work, but they didn’t like dealing with sweaty and wrinkled shirts.  That’s why they created  the Apollo, the first dress shirt that is wrinkled-free and temperature-regulating.

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What features makes the Apollo so state-of-the-art?

By using phase-change materials, the Apollo acts like a battery–it absorbs heat from your body and stores it in the fabric.  That means you can stay cool outside in the summer, and when you step back into your office you’ll be comfortably regulated in the AC.

The shirt’s unique blend of fibers keeps moisture away from your skin, and an anti-bacterial coating and silver threads will take care of odor.  The Apollo was designed with your movements in mind, and thus is very comfortable to wear.

MOS launched their Apollo campaign on Kickstarter, and it was a huge success.  They raised $429K, 1430% of their original target.

What about other MOS products?

Ministry of Supply is working hard to broaden their selection and launch new products.  They have had another successful Kickstarter campaign for ATLAS socks, which control moisture and odor and are extremely comfortable.

atlas

Today you can shop on the MOS website for several temperature- and moisture-regulating dress shirts, odor-controlling sweatshirts, ventilated pants, and moisture-wicking odor-controlled t-shirts and socks.  And the prices are quite acceptable:  dress shirts go for $98-$108, pants for $118- $138, and socks for $18.

Evalino

You have an early morning presentation. You’re drinking your morning coffee in a crowded elevator.  Well, you already know what happens next–the growing brown coffee stain soaks your white shirt.  The Evalino team from New Jersey has developed a way to prevent this scenario by designing a stain- and liquid-resistant dress shirt.

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What technology do they use?

Evalino transforms the molecular structure of the fabric without changing its natural characteristics.

Evalino has created a high-quality cotton shirt and jeans, which are water and stain-resistant.  Watch their video to see someone spill strawberry sauce all over themselves.

Besides water-repelling clothing, Evalino has designed a 100% pure Merino wool suite that can keep you cool even when you are outside on a hot afternoon.  They use a special nanotech treatment that enables the dark wool fabric to reflect the sun’s rays, keeping you cool in all temperatures.  What about the price?  Suits will set you back $400, shirts $85, and jeans $130.

This startup has just launched its first Kickstarter campaign, attempting to raise $40,000.  The campaign will finish on April 28, 2014, so hurry up if you are interested in backing these folks.  They are brave enough to disrupt the fashion industry with new technology, so they’re worth your support.

Wool&Prince (W&P)

Tired of cleaning and ironing your shirts after each wear?  New York startup Wool&Prince hears you.  They have designed a shirt that can be worn 100 days in a row–no washing, no dry cleaning, no wrinkles, no odor.

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How is this possible?

The shirt is made from the finest wool shirting yarn.  W&P spent six months developing what they call the “Cotton-Soft” wool fabric.  Again, no space technology, only the right kind of wool.

Wool fabric is naturally anti-wrinkle and odor-fighting.  W&P guarantees the cotton-like softness as well, and the W&P founder actually has been wearing this shirt 100 days straight.

W&P also used Kickstarter to raise money, and the idea was supported by the public–they raised $314K with an original target of $30K.  Kickstarter shirt prices are one for $98, two for $190, or three for $280.

Future of wearable technology

You don’t have to be a visionary to see that the fashion and apparel industry is changing.  In the era of smartphones and Google glasses, clothing needs to have more functionality than just covering the body.  Not all new wearable technologies are here to stay, but we need to support all the brave newcomers.

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Posted in New Technologies

Mobile marketing trends in fashion retail

Mobile marketing

“Mobile marketing” can sound a little cliché these days.  It makes me think of constant meaningless alerts and push notifications.  Can customers actually benefit from mobile marketing?  Let’s discuss two trends in mobile marketing that can be beneficial for both retailers and consumers.

Get your coupons when you need them

I confess that I almost never use coupons; I’m too disorganized for that.  If I get coupons by mail, I stick them in my purse, so it’s possible that I may use them.  But if I get them by email, forget it.  But what if I can get them at the moment I enter the store? US-based company Swirl provides a solution to this problem.

53397-beacon_teaser1They notify consumers via text about specific deals and offers according to their location in the store.

Technology

Swirl’s communications system uses iBeacon, an indoor positioning system created by Apple.  This is a low-cost transmitter that can notify nearby IOS 7 devices of their presence using Bluetooth.  iBeacon can detect a phone within inches.  The service can be delivered to consumers through the Swirl app or as an add-on to any major retailer’s existing mobile apps.

And the Swirl app is free for consumers; to use it, you need only to approve your geographic location and push notifications.  “Privacy is a major concern for smartphone owners,” says Rob Murphy, Swirl’s vice president of marketing.  “Our research shows consumers are very willing to share their information if they receive value in return.  In fact, 47% of women would be willing to share their location information for a $5 store credit, and 83% would for a $25 store credit.”

Value

Using Swirl, retailers can communicate with consumers who are already in the store by sending them coupons and exclusive offers. Retailers can use Swirl not only to offer gifts and coupons, but for providing recommendations on style and fit.  At larger stores that aren’t able to provide one-to-one customer service, this technology can offer the level of personalization of a small boutique.

Find in-store wish-list items

London-based company Lyst is currently working on technology that will provide customers with an online experience to complement their in-store shopping.

Technology

Lyst is a platform that aggregates many large ecommerce sites in a single location.  Based on the customer’s profile, wish list, and browsing history, Lyst recommends various items as suitable wardrobe add-ons.  Whether walking down Fifth Avenue or window shopping the most fashionable streets in America, customers will receive texted recommendations that can be found just around the corner.  Why not to try them on?

Value

Retailers can boost sales by recommending relevant in-store items to customers while they shop.  These customers can then save time by buying the things they actually need, or plan to buy, during one shopping trip.  They might even save money by considering recommended accessories.

New mobile marketing trends are providing customers with a completely new in-store experience.  No longer frustrating and time consuming, shopping is now a fun experience that provides consumers with easy-to-find items at the best prices.

Posted in Marketing Strategies

Can 3D printing change the fashion industry?

Need a new pair of shoes?  No problem!  Create your own design or buy one that you like, and print them out at home or in a print shop.

It sounds like a dream, but that’s what the shopping/manufacturing process should look like in the future with the advancement of 3D printing technology.  This technology can revolutionize manufacturing from top to bottom, transferring control of the entire production process from fashion companies to consumers.  Today, many designers create extraordinary things with 3D printing.

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Continuum

Continuum is a San Francisco-based startup that produced the first completely 3D-printed, ready-to-wear item of clothing–a swimsuit.  This company stands above other 3D-printed fashion companies, because they didn’t create a prototype or a piece of art, but a practical clothing item that can be mass-produced.

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Continuum was founded in 2009 by Mary Huang and Jenna Fizel.  The two met while Huang was interning at Small Design Firm Inc. in Cambridge, MA.  They used Kickstarter to get the company off the ground, receiving more than $10,000 in donations.

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N12 Bikini

The name of the swimsuit is the “N12 Bikini,” named for its material, nylon 12, which is a solid material that holds in form, but is flexible enough to bend without breaking when printed very thin.  All of the pieces are made by 3D printing and snap together without any sewing.   It is a very functional bikini because it is waterproof and comfortable when wet.

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Continuum’s product line is not limited to just bikinis; they have also created a 3D-printed shoe collection,“strvct, with 3D-printed nylon.

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“This represents the first affordable design that will lead the way for more items fabricated using 3D printing technologies.” says Mary Huang.

Is N12 the future of fashion?

Yes, it is the future of fashion; but it is a future that is still years from become a reality.  Let’s talk about why.

Materials

3D printers can’t print using cloth, nor can they use multiple materials for one item.  This would be a significant breakthrough, taking 3D printing to a whole new level.  3D printing companies have invested heavily in the research, but the technology is not there yet.

Cost

A bikini top on Continuum’s website costs between $250 and $300, and shoes cost around $900 per pair.  It is not affordable, yet the bikini pieces are quite small.  The bigger the item, the more expensive it is to print; so a dress will wind up costing quite a lot.  And still, creating special materials for 3D printing is much more expensive than buying raw materials.

There is no doubt that 3D printing technology will change fashion someday, but it’s not there yet.  I’m sure it is only a matter of time, and we are just in the beginning of a new age in the fashion industry.

Posted in New Technologies

I am Jane Zhdanova, an enthusiastic internet marketer and fashion lover. I'm combining my two passions in this blog where I’m writing about new technologies, business and marketing trends in the fashion industry.


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