Much left to be desired with fashion industry

It can be a challenge for people with disabilities to purchase clothing and footwear. Tracy Cohen shares her experience of trying to be fashionable with limited choices.

When I was maid-of-honour at my sister’s wedding, I remember not being fussed about the dress I would wear, but rather what shoes would be available to suit my feet as well my dress. I searched the stores far and wide looking for a pair that met my requirements. The sheer despondence when I just could not find a suitable pair was soul-destroying.

I had to resort to buying a pair of plain white sneakers. I had them sprayed the colour of my dress and substituted the laces for delicate ribbons to add some femininity to the casual-looking shoes. If only my problem ended there; because after only a short while into the celebrations on the day, my feet started to hurt and I had to change into my slippers – hardly a Cinderella-moment as they definitely did not resemble elegant heels.

Finding shoes that suit my body has always been a challenge for me as a women who loves fashion and has Cerebral Palsy. My feet are shaped differently as a result of my impaired walking, limiting the choice of shoes I can wear. I usually wear sneakers, finding comfort in their ability to fit around the shape of my feet.

Their forgiving design from the materials used in these types of shoes accommodates my flat feet and involuntary the movements in my toes. This is all good and well for a casual look, but when I want to dress up for a smarter occasion, it becomes a challenge. Date night accompanied with the feeling of high-heeled femininity is something foreign to me and an aspect of my life as a women I have had to accept, sometimes with much resentment.

My fashion predicament is not limited to the shoes that I am forced to wear. I also battle with finding tops and pants that accommodate my poor gait. All these challenges calls for much creativity on my part, while simultaneously trying to maintain a strong sense of style and sophistication. I am sometimes forced to take brand new clothes to a seamstress for alterations to try and create a better fit with no guarantee of achieving my goal.

It is comforting to know that I am not alone in my wardrobe woes. People who have difficulty dressing independently, due to age, wheelchair usage and motor skills, require clothing that is better suited to their unique physical needs. In add-on to the practicality of inclusive clothing, the freedom to choose what one wants to wear should not be a privilege that is reserved for the body type dictated by the masses.

As a result, the global market share for adaptive clothing is growing, with calls from the disability community and the elderly for more accessible clothing and footwear. According to a global market intelligence and consulting organisation, Coherent Market Insights, the global adaptive clothing market is estimated to have a compound annual growth rate of 4,1 percent by the end of 2027.

Most fashion retailers in South Africa have a long way to go in terms of adaptive fashion, creating a gap in the fashion market and potential business opportunities.

Looking to the future of adaptive clothing, it is evident that education around people’s varied needs will help corporates to better understand how they can approach this segment of the market. For now, though, it is reassuring to know that a few big retailers in the United States, such as Target and Kohl’s to name a few, offer clothes targeted at a more diverse clientele.

Because of this, it is hoped that other clothing companies will follow suit because we all want to feel beautiful in the clothes we wear. As Sarah Jessica Parker once said: “Fashion is not a luxury; it is a privilege.”

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