Making fashion inclusive
In 2015, New York Fashion Week Fall/Winter featured differently-abled models on the ramp. This, besides bringing a fresh perspective to an industry that is obsessed with size zero models, also sprung new terms such as adaptive clothing and inclusive fashion. While there have been brands such as IZ Collection that have featured adaptive clothing for a long time, fashion has slowly become more democratic since 2015.
For instance, last year, Tomy Hilfiger brought out a new collection of adaptive clothing for kids, and German-based Bezgraniz, one of the leading brands in this genre of clothing, presented its collection in the famed Los Angeles Fashion Week in October last year. The movement, as it turns out, has finally come home with fresh fashion design graduates taking it up as their line of expertise, and helped many such as National Award-winning para-shooter and para-swimmer Justin Vijay Jesudas dress up easy.
Though paralysed chest down, Jesudas drives to work for his swimming sessions, goes for shooting practice and to the gym everyday, all by himself. “But one of the most challenging things in my routine is dressing up,” he says. Wheelchair-bound, it is hard for Jesudas to button up his shirts or zip up his trousers. For a long time, since his accident in 2011, the only alternative was to wear oversized T-shirts and get help from his family to wear his trousers. But that’s only until he met designers Namrata Chandrasekhar and Shalini Viswanathan.
Chandrasekhar, who graduated from National Institute of Fashion Technology, Chennai, last year, took up adaptive clothing as the topic for her final-year project in college. As part of her research, she interacted with Jesudas over the course of four months, trying to understand his requirements and his restrictions in movement. “Based on this, I brought out a collection of clothing which included casual wear, party wear, and those to simply chill by the beach,” she says, over a call from Bengaluru, where she works as a fashion stylist. A video clip she created as part of her project shows Jesudas in black party wear with stretchable panels on the sides, pants with pouches on the thigh rather than the back, and trousers that can be worn as shorts or be pulled to their full length.
“In inclusive fashion, it is very important to get all the inputs from the person that you are creating the clothes for. For example, Jesudas cannot move his fingers, so I used magnets for the top three buttons and normal ones for the rest, so that he could wear it like a T-shirt,” she says. But Jesudas found that the magnetic buttons couldn’t support the weight of the shirt and came off often, so Chandrasekhar replaced it with a strap of Velcro. Given there are no set standards in the industry to follow when it comes to clothing for the physically challenged, “it is the result of a lot of trial and error,” she says. Chandrasekhar also observed that Jesudas puts a lot of pressure on his palm to propel his wheelchair, as he has weak biceps and triceps. “Since there is constant friction, his palms are callused. He used Therabands before, but I made gloves that have silicon prints on the palm area, and they can be strapped on easily as they use Velcro. This gives him the required grip on the push-rims. While he can push 500 metres with bare hands, with gloves on, he can push for two kilometres,” she says.
Meanwhile, Viswanathan, who holds a diploma in fashion from NIFT, Chennai, recently showcased her line of inclusive clothing under the brand name Suvastra as part of the Trios Fashion Show at Hilton. It was the first fashion show in India featuring wheelchair-bound people on the ramp, claims Jesudas. One of the highlights was a nighty that doubles up as a sari. “The one-piece garment can be worn as nightwear, but looks just like a sari complete with blouse, pleats and pallu,” says Viswanathan, who got into adaptive clothing two years ago, while designing clothes for her husband, who has polio. “I realised there were no brands offering inclusive clothing options. I knew the difficulty my husband faced, so I started making clothes for him. Since they came out well, his friends wanted me to make clothes for them as well. The demand eventually saw me making a whole new line,” she says.
The new Indo-Western collection includes pants with belts to help shift people from one place to another, extra-length elastic palazzos and crop tops with long zippers, and gowns with zips on the side and back.
Currently, there are no labels that have a section dedicated to inclusive fashion in India, she claims. “If you run a Google search, you might find 10 to 15 white papers on inclusive fashion, out of which half are outdated,” adds Jesudas.
It’s still in a very nascent stage, though there has been increasing awareness globally. But as far as an exclusive line is concerned, the numbers are still few, says Chandrasekhar.Read more at:formal dresses online