Adaptive Products: An Unexplored Opportunity

Companies with ties to licensing are increasingly creating products for consumers with special needs, an underserved population. This customer segment encompasses everyone from children with autism to people of all ages with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, to seniors who have trouble getting dressed due to dementia or physical ailments.

Some of the categories where this trend is having an impact include:

  • Footwear. Nike announced in 2019 that it was making a strategic investment in HandsFree Labs, which included an IP license for the latter’s Foot Activated Shoe Technology (F.A.S.T.). HandsFree’s IP is being integrated into Nike’s FlyEase platform, which focuses on shoes that offer performance capabilities but are easy for athletes of all abilities to slip on and off. Separately, Zappos was an early entrant into the adaptive footwear market, launching a curated selection of shoes under the Zappos Adaptive brand starting in spring 2017. It now offers 21 brands (up from two at launch) within the program, and is piloting an initiative, with a handful of brands to start, that allows shoppers to purchase just one shoe, or two in different sizes. Other retailers also carry some adaptive shoes, both from mainstream labels and specialty brands such as Billy Footwear.
  • Apparel. In summer 2019, Kohl’s added adaptive clothing, including with Velcro or magnetic closures and/or hidden openings for medical devices such as feeding tubes, to three of its private-label kids’ ranges. Tommy Hilfiger launched its all-ages brand Tommy Adaptive back in fall 2017, considered a first for a major U.S. design label, after a 2016 partnership with Runway of Dreams for kids’ clothing. Items in the line include one-handed zippers, adjustable waists, expanded back openings, and other features. In addition, Tommy Hilfiger owner PVH partnered with MagnaReady, a startup that markets clothing with magnetic closures, using the company’s technology in lieu of buttons across several labels. LF Americas, a division of Li & Fung, has also worked with MagnaReady. And Target has added adaptive clothing to its children’s private label, Cat & Jack, and its Universal Thread women’s line.
  • Halloween costumes. In 2019, Target began offering costumes for children with special needs in its online Hyde & EEK! Boutique. The range included pirates and princesses appropriate for children using wheelchairs or walkers or who need large or special hidden openings for ease of dressing or access. Spirit Halloween offers similar options. Mainstream retailers have been recent entrants into this category, following the lead of specialists such as Rolling Buddies.
  • Home goods. Target introduced sensory-friendly furniture and accessories for kids on the autism spectrum under its Pillowfort brand, starting with 20 pieces in 2019. The range includes rocking chairs, textured floor cushions, and weighted blankets, among other items.

While programs such as these represent a clear trend, the adaptive market is still considered niche, and there are very few if any examples of licensing deals yet. But this segment is worth considering. Not only does it offer white space, giving licensors and licensees an opportunity to be among the first to get a foot in the door, but it addresses the needs of a substantial consumer group. In the U.S. alone, there are 61 million adults with a disability (25% of the total), according to a 2018 analysis of Census Bureau figures by the Centers for Disease Control. Earlier Census figures found that 8% of children under 15 and 50% of seniors 65 and older had some sort of disability.

The global market for adaptive fashion is estimated at $288.7 billion in 2019, according to Coresight Research. It forecasts sales will reach $350 billion by 2023.

This trend is another example of how consumer products marketers are strengthening their efforts to be inclusive. That is one of the 19 trends of 2019 in Raugust Communications’ annual wrap-up of the past 12 months in licensing. The story was posted last week; you can find it here.

This is RaugustReports’ last post for 2019 as we mark the end-of-year holidays. We will be back to our normal Monday and Thursday schedule starting on Thursday, January 2, 2020. We wish all of our readers a happy and prosperous year ahead.

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