Startup aims to make inclusive and adaptable clothing

Startup aims to make inclusive and adaptable clothing
Mother and son Maeve and Paul Donovan of Adaptability Clothing.

While the global marketplace for consumer goods moves towards more inclusivity, “adaptive” clothing is slowly catching up.

Retailers like Asos and brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Nike have introduced adaptive clothing ranges in recent years. However, the industry has been slow to recognise the demand for clothes that cater to people with disabilities and limited mobility.

Ireland has around 40,000 wheelchair users and an increasingly ageing population — the number of over 65s is expected to double over the next two decades — and many have problems finding stylish clothing to meet their needs.

Maeve Donovan and her son Paul had spent a number of years caring for her aunt and uncle who both had dementia. They recognised that the process of dressing could be a distressing and painful experience.

Ms Donovan says Adaptability Clothing’s story is like that of many startups: “We set out to solve a problem we had ourselves.”

She had bought some adaptive clothing items while visiting her sister in the US and while the styles may not have been what her elderly relatives would have chosen to wear, the garments made a significant difference to the dressing experience.

Using concealed velcro fastenings, the mother and son team has created a capsule wardrobe for men and women with items that can be mixed and matched and includes Breton tops, tunics, trousers, skirts, and wool wraps.

While those with Alzheimer’s and dementia can become agitated while getting dressed, others can be hindered by stiffness in their upper body, Ms Donovan says.

“Imagine you’re dressing an elderly relative, and you want to put a sweater or tunic on, but she can’t raise her arms.” Back fastenings allow a caregiver to slide sleeves onto the arms of someone who is sitting in a chair.

The company which began trading earlier this year offers two clothing ranges; one for the independent dresser who has limited dexterity or mobility and one for those who need assistance to get dressed.

The self-dressing range caters for those who have conditions like rheumatoid arthritis “who want to look like themselves for work but can’t manage their shirt buttons”. Instead of buying items of clothing that are one or two sizes bigger to allow ease of dressing, that person can wear clothes that fit well and that they would have chosen to put on, Ms Donovan says.

While designing the range, she spoke with doctors, carers and advocacy associations. She partnered with fashion consultant Maire Morris who advised her on fabric selection and helped her to create a tech pack to send to manufacturers.

She continues to reach out to organisations such as the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland and the Irish Wheelchair Association as she develops the brand.

Fabrics that are comfortable and wash well are essential. However, Ms Donovan wants to move away from merely functional clothing and introduce colour and style to suit a wide range of people.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 85; you want to look as well as you can. I set out to create a small range of simple classic designs. They’re not old people’s clothes,” she says.

Keeping in mind that cost is a huge factor, particularly for those who require full-time care, pricing is affordable with items from €49.95 to €59.95.

While the practical aspect is important, so too is the psychological element. This is an inclusion issue, she says. “People with disabilities or the elderly shouldn’t be excluded from the pleasure of having something colourful and bright and soft to wear.”

“There’s more to dressing than function. Clothing is so much a part of our identity; we look in the mirror and say ‘that’s me’.”

Ms Donovan says the demand for adaptive clothing is growing in Europe and as far as she knows Adaptability Clothing is the only Irish company offering these products.

Ms Donovan, who retired as managing director of the Irish Times almost a decade ago, says a core part of the company’s ethos is to make the buying experience straightforward.

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