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Adaptive mode should be more than a PR ploy

ANWhen Hülya Marquardt visited Fashion Week with her mother-in-law in 2019, she realized again: “Fashion and a disability just don’t go together for many people.” She was born with dysmelia, that is, deformities in the hands and feet. She had both legs amputated when she was 18 years old. On Instagram, she (her husband’s photos) brings her nearly 65,000 followers of her with her through her everyday life. “At first I thought it was just photos and videos,” she says Marquardt, “but I realized how positive the effect on people can be.”

In addition to the account and her main job at the Stuttgart Region Chamber of Crafts, she runs a boutique with her mother-in-law. “At fashion week, people often thought I was just the partner. Most people were surprised that I was really involved.” Disabled people often can’t find suitable clothes. , adaptive mode now takes your needs into account.

Marquardt sometimes wears prosthetic legs, is sometimes in a wheelchair, and is sometimes “walking on the floor” – he adjusts his outfit accordingly. “In the wheelchair I make sure the pants are higher waisted and if I have prosthetics I like to show them off. I have bought clothes for people in wheelchairs before, it is practical, but it is not fashionable”. He prefers to buy clothes from the usual department, even if he later has to go to the tailor to have them altered.

Modern and needs-oriented: both are possible

“Practical but not trendy” is how Josefine Thom describes the rehab fashion range. She found out about it through her sister, who is disabled. Frustrated by the small selection of suitable clothes, she founded the MOB brand in 2019: fashion without barriers. “We want to develop our fashion with wheelchair users, designers, family members and nursing staff.” Instead of assuming a standing person, the needs of a seated person are taken into account. Lengths and cuts are optimized for wheelchair use. Shirts have magnetic buttons, pants don’t have back pockets, blouses are longer in the back than in the front.

The Auf Augenhöhe label was also created in 2017 from personal experience. Sema Gedik realized early on that her little cousin couldn’t express herself in fashion. Her pants and sleeves were too long, and because of the different proportions, a lot of other things didn’t fit right either. Many short people confirmed the problem: there is no uniform system of clothing sizes for short people. That’s why she did some research on herself during her fashion design studies: “I measured more than 800 short people around the world.” Now, at eye level, she develops clothes for short people.

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Both brands want a more open approach to the topic of disability and cooperation with the target group. From time to time, major brands also release adaptive clothing. Tommy Hilfiger has been leading an adaptive fashion line in Europe since 2020, and Nike has launched “Go FlyEase,” a “hands-free sneaker.” But Sema Gedik says, “Nike is putting this shoe out without telling the story behind it.” Originally the goal was to make it easier for people with disabilities to put them on and take them off independently, but the promotional video shows almost exclusively people without disabilities. Also, the footwear was limited, only available to members, and therefore sold out quickly.

Extended standards?

More and more big fashion brands are also showing models outside the standardized ideal of beauty on the catwalk or in campaigns. Diversity is now a priority. It is “hugely important”, says Gedik, that people who do not correspond to the conventional ideal of beauty are shown. This is how minorities are represented and made visible.

Aaron Philip became the first black trans woman with a disability to join a major modeling agency in 2018 and has worked for various brands ever since. Madeline Stuart, an Australian model with Down syndrome, is also one of the few people with a visible physical disability to have walked in fashion weeks. “Especially the big brands have the ability and the power to get something off the ground,” says MOB founder Josefine Thom. “Models with prosthetics have been on the catwalk for several years, but not much has changed.” For many brands, it’s just a PR stunt.

Gedik also sees few fashion brands that deal intensively with the topic. “It’s good when you create awareness and visibility. But if a company really wants to present itself as diverse and inclusive, then it needs to think ahead.” What stops brands from doing this?

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