Buttons. Back zips. Sleeves. These vestimentary details may seem like basic elements of any garment, but for the adaptive fashion community, these are design flaws that lack function and comfort.
Gaining traction only in the last decade, adaptive fashion refers to clothing that accommodates sizings, customisations and fit for wearers with diverse mobility challenges. A large percentage of these consumers comprises the elderly. As it stands, inclusive clothing remains on the fringes of fashion and has yet to break into the collections of mainstream brands and designers.
Notable big-name exceptions include Nike’s FlyEase sneakers, which are hands-free sports shoes that allow wearers of any age and ability to step in and out of; and Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive, which features one-handed zips, magnetic closures, adaptable hems and pieces catered for seated wear. More recently, educator and advocate Sinéad Burkelaunched Juniper Unlimited, an online marketplace that stocks exclusively adaptive brands.
Globally, past and current conversations on ageism in fashion continue to frame the lack of age diversity as an untapped economic opportunity. Singapore’s fashion scene may be young, but this awareness for the need for more inclusive clothing is well ahead of the curve. Leading the charge are Elisa Lim of Will & Well and Claudia Poh of Werable. For them, good design is driven by empathy, not the economy.
“It always starts from attempting to understand the dressing challenges: their dressing preferences, style preferences and aspirations, down to the kind of fabrics that they like,” Lim says. “After all, the clothes we don are very much part of our identity. How we feel is reflected in what we wear.”
Started in 2017 as part of her graduation collection at LaSalle College of the Arts, Lim founded Will & Well after she was commissioned by a doctor to design clothes for home-care patients. Years on, Will & Well stands as one of Singapore’s most prominent inclusive fashion labels. From hard-to-reach back zips to cumbersome buttons, tackling the practicalities of getting dressed is at the heart of Will & Well’s design ethos.