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What is adaptive clothing and how can it make life easier for people with disabilities?

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Have you ever tried zipping or buttoning a shirt with one hand? Put on jeans while sitting? Do you know someone with autism spectrum disorder who can’t stand the feeling of certain tissues on their skin? If your feet are different sizes, or you only have one foot, how do you buy shoes?

Advances in “adaptive clothing” aim to address these issues.

Adapted clothing is specially designed for people with disabilities. This could mean providing one-handed zippers on shoes, replacing buttons with magnetic closures, or designing clothes and shoes so you can dress while seated.

The key to effective tailored clothing is to meet the wide range of needs of different consumers, while maintaining style and trend. Recently, fashion brands have started to offer trendy clothes with new styles, combining fashion and technology for people with various disabilities.

Here are five different ways to approach fashion when it comes to tailored clothing.

1. Magnets, not buttons

Under Armor was one of the first to adopt a magnetic zipper in clothing. The zipper on their redesigned jacket called MagZip uses magnets to connect the ends of the zipper, making it easy to make clothes with one hand.

Magnets were also used in shirts, pants, and other clothing instead of buttons. These allow people who do not have the dexterity or the ability to use buttons to dress better.

2. Shoes without laces

Different iterations of shoes are also aimed at making the process of tying laces easier or removing the need for it all together. Zips can replace traditional laces, allowing shoes to be buckled with one hand.

Another design is the Nike Go FlyEase, a sneaker using a hinged design. The wearer enters the shoe and the hinge opens, holding the shoe in place.

The first FlyEase shoes proved popular with a wider audience, creating supply issues and a large resale market. This shoe is an example of universal design – a principle that proposes that products are designed in such a way that anyone can use them.

3. Clothing for the wearer

Many people with autism are sensitive to certain fabrics or to clothing labels and tags.

Adaptive brands, like JAM the Label, screen labels, avoid physical tags, and offer a range of hyposensitive bamboo and linen fabrics.

Baby onesies and traditional bathtubs that cover the tummy are not always practical for everyone. Their design may be restrictive for people who are tube fed or who use ostomy bags.

Among other designs, Australian adaptive clothing manufacturer Wonsie sells clothing with stomach access for children and adults who need frequent stomach access, which means medical devices don’t have to be a fashion obstacle.

4. 3D printing and custom designs

In the past, adaptive products were often designed to be inconspicuous, such as black wheelchairs or flesh-colored hearing aids and aids. But that is also changing.

Advances in 3D printing technology mean that devices, such as hearing aids, can be available in many different designs and colors.
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Advanced 3D printing and manufacturing allow great flexibility and custom designs of various devices and fashion items.

Open Bionics used 3D printing to create the Hero Arm, a bionic arm powered by muscle movement. By using 3D printing to customize the arm to suit the user, the company is also able to provide users with design options ranging from colors to branded content – a mix of function and fashion.



Read more: From bespoke seats to titanium arms, 3D printing helps Paralympians gain the advantage


5. Unique sales platforms

The technology behind adaptive fashion isn’t just limited to product design – it’s used in sales and marketing as well.

The Every Human’s Unpaired System allows consumers to purchase unique footwear, while searching by size, width, and a range of adaptive features such as ease of donning and usability for those who wear an ankle / foot orthosis.

This may benefit people who have feet of different sizes or shapes or with prosthetics, where traditional footwear would not do.

While this seems like a relatively simple idea, it does require brands to have more sophisticated ordering systems. Products should be itemized individually, rather than in traditional pairs, and labeled with additional features such as the left or right shoe, and the adaptive features that each side has, so that consumers can search according to their needs.

Adapt beyond technology

Like many consumers, people with disabilities simply want to be able to shop in physical stores or online and find clothes that they like and fit. So while technology is helping retailers deliver a growing range of tailored clothing, it’s not the only solution.

The next step is not only to think about the garment itself, but also the wearer and how he wants to shop.

All fashion brands should tailor their items to the wide range of consumer needs: the technology is already here.