May 17, 2022

Adaptive fashion for people with disability showcased in Australian first

SBS by Felicity Davey & Jessica Bahr

For the first time in its history, Australian Fashion Week has featured a dedicated adaptive fashion runway showcasing creations designed for people with disability.

The Adaptive Clothing Collective runway featured inclusive and expressive clothing by brands JAM the Label and Christina Stephens.

Adaptive clothing is designed to cater to a variety of needs, with designs often including magnetic buttons, zip-up shoes and temperature control fabrics.

Carol Taylor, designer and co-founder of Christina Stephens, began designing her own clothes after becoming quadriplegic.

Ms Taylor said following her spinal cord injury, she was frustrated at the lack of options offered by mainstream fashion.

Group of models on the runway in the Adaptive Clothing Collective fashion show.
The show featured a range of pieces designed to cater to people with a variety of disability. Source: AAP / JAMES GOURLEY
"Clothing is very powerful and I loved fashion before my injury," she said.

"Fashion didn't accommodate me, I felt very lonely and very excluded ... when I started to design for myself, I found my voice."

"Clothing has a direct impact on the way the world perceives you and so often (the world) underestimates someone with a disability."
Ms Taylor said she wanted people with disability to be able to enjoy mainstream fashion and the shopping experience.

"The message we want to get across is that adaptive fashion is mainstream fashion. We want to get far away from this medical model of adaptive clothing," she said.

"We have plus-sized fashion in retail, we have maternity, we have so many other categories ... one in five Australians has a disability, where are they represented in mainstream fashion?"
Dr Dinesh Palipana wearing dress shirt and vest, smiling at camera
Dr Dinesh Palipana featured on the Adaptive Clothing Collective runway. Source: SBS
"Mainstream fashion needs to wake up and see there is a demand for this."

The history-making show featured 10 models with disability from across Australia, including disability advocate Lisa Cox, actor and disability advocate Chloe Hayden and Queensland Australian of the Year 2021, Dr Dinesh Palipana.

Dr Palipana said the experience of taking part in the adaptive runway was "indescribable".

"Through this whole journey after I had a spinal cord injury and became quadriplegic, a lot of people would tell me about the things I could and couldn't do," he said.

"One of the biggest things I noticed when I first had the spinal cord industry was there were so many things you had to think about; clothing that doesn't cause pressure ulcers, clothing that's easy to take on and off, clothing that's easy to move around in a wheelchair, but you still want to be you and express yourself."

"[I love] idea of fashion is catching up and allowing people to express themselves."

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