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Adaptive Fashion — A Fake Trend?

Adaptive Fashion — A Fake Trend?

In the dynamic world of fashion, where trends sway and follow the law of sales and marketing, I inevitably asked myself whether adaptive fashion is just another trend or a growing niche with a truly transformative potential.
 

So here is what I think:

Are we Talking about a Fake Trend?

Before you continue reading, I would like to start by clarifying what I mean by adaptive fashion: I am talking about clothing that is to address specific needs that mainstream fashion doesn’t cater to. It facilitates the wearer’s clothing experience but is specifically created with style and design in mind, not merely functionality. Adaptive fashion extends beyond accessible clothing — it’s also about getting rid of a “one-design-fits-all” mentality and connects design innovation with social responsibility and fashion as an inclusive art form.

Exploring the current adaptive fashion scene reveals an ongoing shift in the industry’s approach toward inclusivity. Over the past years brands have launched adaptive fashion divisions or were born exclusively to create lines that commit to diverse physical shapes and abilities. Adaptive fashion keeps evolving, embracing design innovations but also technological advancements. Magnetic closures, adjustable features and sensory-friendly materials are not mere design elements, but foundational bricks of a revolution, challenging traditional notions of purpose or performance.

Yet, the question persists: is this evolution, particularly when it comes to established brands, a genuine commitment to inclusivity or merely a nod to a fleeting trend? There is no doubt about the authenticity and genuine approach of specialised brands that were born from a close understanding of persons with disabilities’ needs and daily challenges. But as adaptive elements become more common, the risk lies not in the evolution itself but in the temptation for major brands to treat inclusivity as a market trend rather than an intrinsic ethos. It’s merely giving consumers token adaptive or inclusive elements while not actually focusing on developing for and adapting to specific needs.

Navigating the Shifting Currents of Inclusivity

But is it even worth the effort to invest in research and development and build an adaptive fashion brand? Does the demand warrant a wider adaptation, or should it be left to specialists? Fashion, when viewed as such, is promoted towards non-disabled individuals with a fairly narrow margin for body-type variation. Customers are used to what they see in stores and advertising, so any deviation is viewed critically — especially when paired with potential prejudice towards disability. True change is slow to reach the masses and usually accompanied by systemic or social shifts (just think how long it took women to embrace pants as a viable option, let alone a standard staple piece in their wardrobe).

The answer lies in the intention. The question of whether it’s worth the effort to build an adaptive fashion brand goes beyond a simple cost-benefit analysis. If the goal is authentic inclusivity with a dedication to reshaping the fashion narrative, the challenge is certainly not only worthwhile but necessary. Any effort in this direction must come from a needs-based approach, including people with disabilities on all stages, while retaining the essence of fashion design: creating pieces that makes you feel good when you wear them.

But even considering the economic value of adaptive fashion, the numbers show an encouraging picture. Current estimations state that there are roughly 1 billion persons with disabilities worldwide (UN, Factsheet on Persons with Disabilities). If we assume that fashion brands will target only the top 20 percent with the necessary purchasing power, that amounts to a market of 200 million people who could benefit from a more adaptive approach to fashion.

And still the Adaptive Fashion Market is not a Booming Market!

There is unfortunately a persistent lack of awareness, regarding the existence and potential widespread benefits of adaptive fashion. Paired with a certain bias or even stigmatisation, it deters people, who could benefit from certain features even without a diagnosed disability, from even considering brands specifically marketed as adaptive or inclusive — a very unfortunate and in my opinion self-defeating reason. Some people might need glasses to read the dinner menu, some prefer an elastic waistband to zippers or buttons, and others might just profit from an extra opening in the right place if they have mobility issues.

The lack of representation in mainstream fashion supports the idea of adaptive fashion or universal design as a niche market rather than a widespread need. It slows down the sector’s growth and stops penetration into the mainstream market, thus making it more difficult to reach and serve their target group.

What does it need?

Still, I am convinced, that all the above reasons are zero arguments against the potential benefits and have one answer in common: Persistence and a consistent commitment to the intrinsic value of inclusive solutions. Building an adaptive fashion brand demands a delicate balance, ensuring that functionality meets fashion seamlessly. And the more adaptive designs and brands become embedded in the fashion scene, the easier it becomes to design, manufacture and market them.

Balancing this fine line requires an ongoing commitment to authenticity and inclusivity that goes beyond mere symbolism. Brands will have to resist the allure of performative inclusivity, recognizing that genuine progress cannot occur without collaborating closely with the community they aim to serve. The transformative power of adaptive fashion lies not in its trendiness but in its enduring impact on the industry’s landscape. It is a call for designers, individuals with diverse abilities, and the broader fashion audience to engage in a meaningful dialogue, ensuring that adaptive fashion remains a force for lasting change rather than a passing trend.

Author: Laura Alberti (CivilSocietyHUB)

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