Adaptive clothing for people with disabilities is a growing yet still very small part of fashion. Disabilities can come in many forms, and require specific clothing needs, such as convenient closures, adjustable size and fit and elastic waistbands instead to serve people’s specific needs. Though, simultaneously, they also need to be based on design-thinking and stylish, of course.
As her final-year project, Monika Dugar, who has just graduated from the London College of Fashion, decided to work on a collection, [R E S E T], for people suffering from Parkinson’s, a disorder that leads to problems with balance and coordination.
“My father has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s for the last eight years. I have seen how difficult it was for him to dress himself. While I was still in university, I began researching about the disease and spoke to other people with Parkinson’s with similar problems. Looking at their experiences inspired me to help them,” says Dugar.
Dugar explains that the garments are designed for easy wear. The silhouettes are modern and contemporary, with shift dresses, kimono jackets, turtle-neck tops and elasticated trousers. “With snap buttons on the sides and loose armholes, the garments can be worn by people on their own. There are also clothes for people using wheelchairs, where the back of the clothes can be opened by people assisting them in dressing up. There are even detachable pockets for the wheelchairs. Everyday mobility needs have been taken into consideration.”
The garments have some features in common with adaptive clothing, such as Velcro fasteners, which Dugar is also working on for a new collection. “Since magnets can’t be used by heart patients, and Velcro requires some strength, we have replaced them with lighter Velcro fasteners, buttons and loops and easy snap buttons. There are also cross-pockets to rest your arms,” she says. These are all elements of the upcoming, new collection.
The colour palette, filled with light pastels, popping primary colours and muted neutrals, keeps the clothes stylish. “You should feel happy when you see the clothing”, she says. This is something she found lacking. “While researching about adaptive clothing in the market, I found that the clothes were missing that style and confidence. These prints and colours play a big psychological role in dressing up.”
A special feature of her first collection is the use of graphic stripes. Dugar’s research suggested that stripes, when visually perceived by people with Parkinson’s on any surface, prevent “gait freezing”. Prashant Makhija, consultant neurologist at Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central, describes gait freezing as a situation where “people with Parkinson’s feel that their feet are glued to the ground. It’s a symptom that’s present in some patients of Parkinson’s.”
Dugar refers to a paper, Visual Control Of Locomotion In Parkinson’s Disease,
published in the Journal Of Neurology in 1999, which notes “that the perceived motion of stripes, induced by the patient’s walking, is essential to improve the gait parameters”.
“Walking on such striped surfaces is a form of therapy that helps more than medicines to alleviate gait freezing,” says Dr Makhija.
Dugar found according to the study, that stripes “reset” the vision of people with Parkinson’s. “The print calms the minds of people with Parkinson’s. Since it’s not medically approved, I can’t claim that it helps in any form of recovery, but it does raise awareness about the therapy and how it can help people in their everyday lives,” she says.
Dugar used the concept to design clothes that erase small hurdles of dressing. Even though this is a different aspect than that related to problems of gait freeze, Dugar feels that stripes on button fasteners and sleeves helps people with Parkinson’s recognize these parts of the clothes more easily and wear it themselves. “I used the print in strategic positions on the clothes, for people with Parkinson’s, to wear them with more ease.”
Dugar is sending her clothing samples to healthcare centres across London to see how well they work, hoping for feedback so she can improve on the designs.