Why I'm making accessible fashion

Caron


Mum of three, Caron, from Stockport tells us how she wants to make the fashion industry more inclusive with her own bespoke joggers.

Caron and Emile

It was January 2016 when my life completely changed. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I had been watching the film Everest with my son Emile and his sister Esther. My son Emile was 13 and a half years old at the time. After the film ended, Emile wanted to come with me to run an errand. Little did I know we were about to face our own Everest.

Five minutes into the drive, Emile let out a shout and started to squirm in his seat. His feet were turned inwards, and he couldn’t lift his legs. We went straight to A&E. It took three people to get him out of the car and into a wheelchair. We found out that Emile had suffered a spinal cord stroke. The stroke had left him paralysed from the chest down.

Learning to adapt

I was amazed at how well Emile coped with this traumatic event. His resilience was astounding. Because Emile now had no bladder or bowel function, we had to adjust to self-catheterising to empty his bladder. Once we got into our daily routine, it soon became clear that clothes did not fit Emile properly whilst he sat in the wheelchair. More importantly, even the comfortable joggers that Emile liked to wear did not provide easy access to catheterise.

I knew that this would be a problem that many people faced. So I spoke to wheelchair users, carers, physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists to find out more. I wanted to know what issues people faced when getting dressed or supporting someone getting dressed. With this research and my own experiences with Emile, I came up with a new idea. 

Designing adaptive joggers

What was my idea? I designed bespoke joggers and trousers with a unique front opening that would enable comfortable catheterising. These would really help me dress Emile. And more importantly, would be comfortable for him to sit in. They are also higher at the back to avoid sagging and provide full coverage. The idea is that the trousers could be available in various waist sizes and leg lengths to ensure a better fit for different disabilities and all shapes and sizes.

With my idea in mind, I decided to approach The Fashion Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University, who had been working with the Stroke Foundation

They had been researching the difficulties stroke survivors face when trying to find suitable clothes when they return to work. So I decided to talk to them about my bespoke item.

Students Rebecca and Melissa were really excited by the idea and asked me to make a prototype. We also talked about what else might make the outfit complete.

So they added a polo top with magnetic openings to complete the look. This made the outfit into a smart casual tracksuit that would be comfortable, practical and suitable to wear at work.

And that marked the start of Bealiesadaptivewear. Bealie is my daughter Esther’s nickname for Emile, so it seemed like the perfect fit!

Emile in adaptive joggers

Working for inclusion

When I carried out my research, it was clear that there is a real gap in the market for casual wear for wheelchair users. Clothing that’s fashionable as well as functional. It’s disappointing to see that not many mainstream brands offer adaptive ranges. Especially ones that are affordable. I really hope that with Bealiesadaptivewear, I can start to close the gap and offer a better choice for disabled people.

The plan is to start by making an initial small run of the joggers ready to launch in Summer this year. This will give me the chance to identify any teething problems. As well as fine tune the patterns and materials. Then we can look to produce the joggers on a larger scale! And who knows – maybe we will be able to add more clothes to the collection. I hope to one day have a range that models main-stream fashion and updated seasonally. A range that is inclusive for all disabled people that feels stylish and on-trend. 

After working for over 20 years as a mental health social worker, I feel ready for a new challenge. And Emile and I are ready to challenge the fashion industry!