‘Health­wear’ is one area of grow­ing so­lu­tion-based de­sign move­ment

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - VANESSA FRIED­MAN

Six years ago, Maura Hor­ton, a homemaker in Raleigh, N.C., re­ceived a call from her hus­band, Don, the as­sis­tant foot­ball coach at North Carolina State.

He was on the road for a game and was hav­ing so much trou­ble but­ton­ing his shirt, he had to ask a player for help. His Parkinson’s symp­toms were start­ing to worsen.

So Maura Hor­ton did what any­one would do th­ese days when faced with such a prob­lem: she searched Google for “easy-to-close shirt.” And found ... not much.

“And then I looked at my iPad cover and saw it had th­ese re­ally small mag­nets, and thought, ‘Well, what about that?’” she says now — a patent, a com­pany and 22 shirt styles later.

Hor­ton (who once de­signed chil­dren’s wear) and her com­pany, Mag­naReady, are part of a new sub­sec­tor in fash­ion: what Chait­enya Raz­dan, the founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Care and Wear, has chris­tened “health­wear.” The sec­tor takes the tools and tech­niques (and trends) of fash­ion and ap­plies them to the chal­lenges cre­ated by ill­ness and dis­abil­ity.

And health­wear is sim­ply one part of a larger move­ment, in which clas­si­cally trained de­sign­ers (and those they work with) are re­think­ing the ba­sic premise, and prom­ise, of fash­ion it­self. Call it so­lu­tion-based de­sign.

Though fash­ion is often dis­missed as friv­o­lous and self-in­dul­gent, this grow­ing niche sug­gests that rather than be­ing part of the prob­lem — and a sym­bol of the mul­ti­ple di­vi­sions in so­ci­ety (po­lit­i­cal, per­sonal, eco­nomic) — it can ac­tu­ally come up with some of the an­swers.

In May, for ex­am­ple, An­gela Luna was named a de­signer of the year at Par­sons School of De­sign at the New School for a grad­u­ate col­lec­tion of con­vert­ible gar­ments that used out­er­wear to ad­dress spe­cific is­sues of the refugee cri­sis: shel­ter, flota­tion, vis­i­bil­ity. So there was a hip util­ity coat that could be­come a tent, and a padded jacket that be­came a sleep­ing bag. One anorak had a built-in flota­tion de­vice; another, a baby car­rier.

And she fol­lowed Lucy Jones, who won de­signer of the year in 2015 for a col­lec­tion that fo­cused on min­i­mal, el­e­gant clothes for wheel­chair users, tak­ing into ac­count both the al­tered pro­por­tions ne­ces­si­tated by be­ing per­ma­nently seated, and the chal­lenges of get­ting pieces on and off when one is phys­i­cally im­paired — or tak­ing care of some­one who is.

Fash­ion, once a world de­fined by ex­clu­siv­ity — clothes for the very rich, or the very skinny; clothes for in­sid­ers, for peo­ple who knew where to shop — has, in re­cent years, un­der­gone a demo­cratic rev­o­lu­tion.

If the doors first opened with Yves Saint Lau­rent’s pop­u­lar­iza­tion of high-fash­ion ready-to-wear in the 1960s, they were thrown wide to the masses at the turn of the mil­len­nium with the ad­vent of fast fash­ion, and the idea that economics should not dic­tate who has ac­cess to cool clothes.

From there, it did not take long for the same idea to be ap­plied to size, age, sex­u­al­ity and re­li­gion. Yet solv­ing for the dis­abled and the dis­placed has in many ways been the fi­nal fron­tier.

Though ad­vances in med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy and leg­is­la­tion have cre­ated sit­u­a­tions in which peo­ple with long-term con­di­tions are in­creas­ingly able to be part of the work­force and quo­tid­ian life, the im­pli­ca­tions — they need clothes that al­low them to do so while also ac­com­mo­dat­ing their phys­i­cal re­al­ity — have taken a while to sink in.

Man­u­fac­tur­ing has sim­i­larly not caught up with re­al­ity, and Jones and Luna cite is­sues with non-stan­dard pat­tern-cut­ting and ma­te­ri­als (peo­ple in wheel­chairs, for ex­am­ple, need tops with very trun­cated bod­ies but long arms) as road­blocks to wider pro­duc­tion.

But be­yond the prac­ti­cal, there’s also a more fun­da­men­tal is­sue of what, ex­actly, fash­ion is for.

Es­capism has long been con­sid­ered by many the point of fash­ion. Talk to chief ex­ec­u­tives of cat­walk brands and chances are they will go on and on about “the dream.” Even when fash­ion has wres­tled with real-world is­sues, it was al­ways in the con­text of ei­ther fundrais­ing (it has been ac­tive with is­sues like HIV/ AIDS and breast cancer) or its own tra­di­tional forms: John Gal­liano’s con­tro­ver­sial “Home­less” cou­ture col­lec­tion for Dior, for ex­am­ple, with newsprint gowns in­spired by the men sleep­ing be­side the Seine.

When Luna first be­came im­mersed in the refugee cri­sis, she con­sid­ered trans­fer­ring from Par­sons to a school with a more tra­di­tional in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions pro­gram (she even ap­plied to the Paris In­sti­tute of Po­lit­i­cal Stud­ies) be­cause she couldn’t imag­ine how what she was learn­ing could be rel­e­vant. She didn’t have a model to fol­low.

And when she re­al­ized that her skills may have a prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion, she had to over­come the stigma of refugee chic, the as­sump­tion that she was be­ing “in­spired” by the cri­sis to make ex­pen­sive clothes.

But this is not about ex­ploit­ing an is­sue, or even bring­ing it to broader at­ten­tion. It’s about see­ing fash­ion as a tool to ame­lio­rate it and cre­at­ing a sys­tem to help.

“Fash­ion has cre­ated a lot of prob­lems, but there is an op­por­tu­nity for it to be a force for good,” Luna said. “We just have to re­al­ize it.”


A col­lage of de­signs by Lucy Jones, who won the Par­sons grad­u­ate prize in 2015 for a cloth­ing col­lec­tion for peo­ple in wheel­chairs. For years, de­sign­ers re­sponded to so­cial prob­lems by fundrais­ing, but now they’re tak­ing it to a new level with so­lu­tion-based de­signs.


Large tent con­verted from an An­gela Luna coat.


A larger ver­sion of an An­gela Luna tent-coat.


A Care and Wear shirt de­signed for use by peo­ple with med­i­cal ports.

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