Adaptive Wear For People With Disabilities

Faduma Farah, a mum-of-two who was paralysed from the neck down has funded a unique collection of adaptive wear for her first London Fashion Week catwalk show in late September. Farah suffered a near-fatal case of meningitis in 2011, which rendered her paralysed from the neck down at 34 years old. She has since managed to regain control of her neck, upper body, and arm muscles.

Farah has founded a fellowship for fashion designers to create adaptive-wear after becoming frustrated by the lack of clothing available to her as a wheelchair user.

Being a wheelchair user means you experience a lot of change, not only in your health but in you body shape and movement too. When i use my own wheelchair I usually have to have a blanket over my legs due to being more exposed to the cold through lack of movement. Furthermore, I prefer stretchy, loose clothing that allows me to sit comfortably for long periods of time.

Farah explains that 'everything becomes a big hurdle – from travel, to the inability to work, to being housebound – and now you have nothing to wear. ‘I found myself asking, “is this me now? Will I always be wearing men’s t-shirts and trousers?”. She emphasised that ‘at the very least, safe, comfortable, fashionable clothes should not be impossible to access!’ There are 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK, and yet the availability of wheelchair user friendly fashion is often overlooked.

Farah funded the collection which features design innovations including magnetic buttons, relocated pockets, breathable fabric and hidden seams. It can be very difficult for wheelchair users to find something appropriate to wear. Material needs to be breathable and seams often have to be adapted, as otherwise can lead to discomfort or even actual physical harm. Farah once had to be on bed rest for five weeks just to recover from wearing an item of clothing that caused sores on her body.

Jeans are not an option as they tend to dig into sensitive pain areas for me. I usually stick to leggings and a jumper or a dress in warmed weather. It is so frustrating as I personally often feel 'frumpy' or unattractive due to being unable to access a wider range of clothing and accessories suitable for a wheelchair user. Farah summarises these feelings excellently, emphasising that she doesn't want people to look at her and think she doesn't care about my appearance.

Farah announced that ‘as wheelchair users we have a lot of hurdles in life and dressing up shouldn’t be one of them. I’d like every designer out there to think about the person in the wheelchair – don’t forget about us.’ Commenting on the success of her funded show she said ‘This is a journey. Today we opened a door. Hopefully there will be many more designers out there thinking about designing for people in wheelchairs in future.’ The fellowship launched the first ever collection for wheelchair users at London Fashion Week at a show produced by OFS which has helped more than 700 designers to launch collections across the UK, US and Europe producing 10 seasons of international shows across New York, London, Milan and Paris.

Farah’s Fellowship was founded in April 2021 to provide an opportunity for a gifted fashion designer to work in partnership with Farah, to create and bring to life a fashion collection with wheelchair users at it's focal point. With over 20 designers applying for the Fellowship, the final winner was announced as Harriet Eccleston from Derbyshire, a graduate of Northumbria University and a former pattern cutter at Paul Smith.

One of the first actions Farah and Eccleston took together was to examine a range of fabrics to find

out what might be suitable. Their first adaptive-wear line was showcased for the first time on Sunday 19 September during London Fashion Week. The show featured twelve looks, including six models who use a wheelchair. Eccleston explained: ‘Three months ago I had very little awareness of what adaptive clothing was. ‘The more I am learning and experiencing, the more I see how important this work is. I am delighted to be working with Faduma to spark change to ensure that everybody can wear the clothes that they love.’ This is a huge step toward making clothing more accessible and appropriate for wheelchair users.

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