The State of Adaptive Apparel Market and Inclusive Design: Making Fashion for All

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Inclusivity and diversity have been headlining topics in the fashion press last year, however, an inclusive communication campaign is not enough if it does not translate into actions inside the company’s product lines. What is the adaptive clothing market? And why is it relevant that design be for everyone?
ELLE Education Business
TopicAdaptive Design / Inclusivity / Diversity

Being truly inclusive is to invite all people to sit at the same table. Unfortunately, inside the fashion world, this does not happen very often.

 As a system, fashion reinforces individuality instead of collectivity and promotes exclusivity instead of accessibility. The exclusion is a component of its social dynamics, and fashionable designs sometimes become a privilege for only a few.

People with different attributes from the average person continually face these dilemmas daily. Whether due to a genetic disposition, an accident, or a disease – punctual or degenerative – people living with a disability (PLWD) find the simple act of dressing complicated.

According to Statista, the adaptive clothing market represents a market value of $300 billion in 2021, with a global growth outlook of 16% by 2024. Coresight Research estimates that the U.S. market will grow to $54.8 billion by 2023. 

These indicators show the importance of a group of active customers that have been continuously invisible under the umbrella of disability and shopping clothes only from the medical perspective. 

In this context, the style factor is equally significant than function because fashion clothing can contribute to increase their self-esteem and also their self-sufficiency, as they can use fashion as a way of expressing their individuality.

Disabled World defines adaptive clothing, or adapted clothes, “as clothing, garments, and footwear specially designed for people with physical disabilities, the elderly, the infirm and post-surgery patients”. 

The users of adaptive clothing may find themselves in difficulty for self-dressing “due to an inability to manipulate closures, such as buttons and zippers, or due to a lack of a full range of motion required” due to nervous diseases, or physical handicaps, to illustrate a wide range of cases.

Fashion, which always promotes style and trends, frequently has not considered the functionality of garments for people with disabilities or those with a non-normative body. 

Design as a function of course provides benefits, as adapted fashion products improve the life of PLWD. These specialized lines provide nonrestrictive comfort to the wearer and an easy way of dressing or undressing.

An Opportunity for Fashion’s Inclusivity Design Practices

PLWD should not be framed as just another market segment. In doing so we would fall into the trap of exclusion. Universal Design tries to erase that notion from a variety of disciplines such as architecture, industrial design, and fashion.

Inclusion and usability in the design of garments for everyone (regardless of whether there is any physical or mental impairment) is a great challenge for any contemporary designer. 

First, the clothing must be functional to be truly wearable, and second, a balance between ergonomics and aesthetics is a must-do, this way the design is not solely contingent on its function.

It seems a paradox, but in reality, “Universal Design would not be needed if the disability was not part of being human”. According to The Universal Design Project “some people have significant functional needs that require specialized design. If universal design is the foundation for design, adding specialized features as-needed is much easier and more cost-effective than if a design is fully specialized”.

The fashion market is still segmented by specialized design mainly due to business’ inertia and a lack of knowledge over the subject. This shows, there is still a long way to go, although several brands and independent projects are giving light to this universal concern. 

For example, Tommy Hilfiger launched “Tommy Adaptive”, a fashion line created with one goal in mind: “to make dressing easier for everyone… only quality clothing that offers solutions”. Their client’s feedback had been the best way to improve the line. This constant insight has helped the brand to produce better clothing options. 

Brands such as Collina Strada (its FW21 catalog features clothes for PLWD), Chromat, Christian Siriano (in a possible collaboration with Selma Blair), Nike, Target, or Asos are some companies that are making tangible efforts inside the adaptive market. 

Fashion’s long journey to embrace inclusivity is necessary as this approach can change business mindsets and, hopefully, will put all humans (no matter how different they might be), at the center of the design practices of the future. 


Originally published at: ELLE Education Business >