Augmenting Adaptive Apparel Assortments

The fashion industry has been slowly putting more focus on consumers with disabilities since the mid-2010s, when it began picking up the pace of adaptive apparel releases. The technique has been flourishing in the last 18 months, as the business has seen several launches of adaptive clothing lines from retailers and brands, not to mention more licensed and collaborative collections.

Adaptive clothing includes features that are sensory-friendly, including comfortable materials such as cotton and bamboo, tags that do not stick out, and flat seams. They also incorporate characteristics that make the items easier to put on and take off, such as closures on the side and front; Velcro, magnets, or hook-and-loop closures in lieu of buttons and traditional zippers; laceless shoes; stretch fabrics; larger openings at the collar and sleeves or fully open backs; and wheelchair-friendly attributes such as slacks with reduced front and increased back rises and no back pockets for comfort while seated. Importantly, they also are fashion-forward and inclusive in colors and sizes, emulating mainline styles.

Collaborations involving celebrities and designers in particular have been on the rise of late. A few recent agreements illustrate:

  • QVC paired with actress Selma Blair, who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and designer Isaac Mizrahi this month for an inclusive, accessible clothing line, Isaac Mizrahi Live! x Selma Blair. The collection was created with both consumers with disabilities and consumers without disabilities in mind. Blair is QVC’s brand ambassador for accessibility and is friends with Mizrahi, who has designed some of her red-carpet looks. The collection debuted with 15 styles, including pants, jackets, sweaters, shirts, and accessories.
  • JAM The Label, an adaptive clothing specialist based in Australia, created its first capsule with a fashion designer in May 2023. The 12-piece streetwear collection was created in collaboration with Rachel Shugg, who lives with multiple disabilities, and includes sweaters, t-shirts, crop tops, cargo pants, jeans, bomber jackets, and wrap skirts.
  • Lacoste paired with swimmer Théo Curin in April 2022 for what was billed as the first-ever fashion collection in partnership with an athlete with disabilities. The collection was designed to work for all people, whether they have a disability or not. It included a sweatshirt, t-shirt, cap, polo shirt, and sleeveless parka.
  • Kim Kardashian’s Skims lingerie and shapewear brand launched an adaptive collection in April 2022, available in sizes up to 4X, as an extension of its inclusively sized Fits Everybody collection. The debut range came in four colors—onyx, cocoa, sienna, and clay—to appeal to consumers with different shades of skin. Plans called for the company to expand its other lines to include adaptive offerings over time.

These celebrity- and designer-driven collections have occurred as more retailers have been launching or expanding collections of adaptive pieces. Just in the second half of this year, Kohl’s launched its Nine West Adaptive line, the latest of several initiatives directed at this market segment. Walmart introduced Adaptive at Walmart, which includes adaptive-specialist brands including How iRoll Sports, The Shapes United, and No Limbits and extends to utensils, wheelchair accessories, hearing aids, amplifiers, and the like, as well as apparel. Zappos teamed with Sorel footwear as part of its Zappos Adaptive initiative, offering universal versions of its classic shoe styles. QVC added an adaptive collection to its private-label Denim & Co. brand, building on several other programs it had inaugurated over the past two years. And Victoria’s Secret debuted its first collection of intimate apparel, under the Pink brand, for women with disabilities.

On the licensing front, celebrities and designers such as those listed above are not the only property types that have entered the adaptive market. The NFL announced its first adaptive apparel line earlier this month with G-III, representing a first foray into this segment for any pro sports league, it says. The collection consists of short- and long-sleeved t-shirts and crewneck and hooded sweatshirts highlighting the logos of its 32 teams. Similarly, Paramount Global’s U.K. licensing team paired with Unhidden for its first adaptive apparel line, for kids with and without disabilities, starting with a PAW Patrol collection set for December 2023, followed by a SpongeBob SquarePants release.

It should be noted that the adaptive fashion market is following in the footsteps of the plus-size space in that collections are starting to be directed more often to both able-bodied customers and those with disabilities, rather than being tailored for the latter group only. When plus-size fashion first trended, collections were formulated just for that market, but the business quickly transformed to incorporate larger sizes into broader, inclusive product ranges encompassing all sizes and shapes. Several of the collections named here are following that template, being designed not just for consumers with disabilities, but for all people, of all colors, shapes, and sizes, with disabilities and without.

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