People with disabilities are demanding inclusion in all aspects of life, including fashion, shopping hours and the workplace. In response, brands are innovating products to meet these needs. 7.5% of the South African population have disabilities and, according to the World Bank, 15% of the world’s population have some form of disability. In the UK the “purple pound” is estimated to be worth around £249bn to the economy.
Adaptive fashion is a term for ranges that cater to bodies that have challenges wearing mainstream clothing. The Tommy Hilfiger brand first designed an adaptive fashion line in 2016. Since then he has been expanding on this offering by increasing collections to two per year and expanding availability worldwide. Unhidden clothing is an independent UK-based brand which designs for people with disabilities and impairments. Garments include those that accommodate colostomy bags and wheelchairs.
Unilever is prototyping the world’s first adaptive deodorant, Degree Inclusive, built for a diverse community of persons with disabilities. The product is intended to be used without needing to twist the cap, turn a stick, or push down on a spray can. Two hundred people are currently trialling the prototype to refine and improve the product ahead of its commercial launch. Says Kathryn Swallow, global Degree brand vice president, “More than 60 million people in the US live with a disability, yet products and experiences are still not designed with this community in mind. With Degree Inclusive we hope to inspire bold action across the industry to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal playing field.”
Above: The world’s first adaptive deodorant
Pinterest got off to an early start, redesigning its app for people with a range of visual impairments. Long Cheng, lead designer, said “We asked one user, would you use Pinterest? You can’t see what’s on the screen! She said, “Of course I would.’” People who are blind also want recipes, style advice and party planning tips. Among the features Pinterest added was integration with iPhone’s VoiceOver which gives audible descriptions of what’s on the screen.
South African fashion designer, Laura Wagner-Meyer saw a gap in the market for clothing that made those with disabilities feel feminine and elegant. She started a fashion label called Younique with a tagline “Exclusively Inclusive”. Being a person with a disability, she has an innate understanding of the sartorial challenges facing women like her and uses her fashion design training to design made-to-order garments for her clients. She says, “Firstly, I’d want them to feel comfortable. I’d want them to feel as if their physical needs have been met. I think that this will then lead to the feeling of incredible confidence.”
While still a relatively niche market, the innovations in this space are becoming more mainstream. We are likely to see more inclusive design principles being employed both from an ethical and business standpoint. Inclusivity is currently an important issue that the public and private sectors, as well as society in general are trying to address. As more people with disabilities speak out about their lack of options, the financial opportunities this presents are difficult to ignore.
By Faeeza Khan
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Image credit: South China Morning Post/ Tommy Hilfiger