About The Author: Chaitenya Razdan founded Care+Wear in 2014 after friends and family were diagnosed with cancer and told to wear cut up tube socks to protect their PICC lines. No alternative existed, but Chat knew there had to be a better and more human way to balance quality care and the experiences of those receiving it.
Hype Culture Versus Equity Culture
Nike is iconic. Behind its signature swoosh is a community of collectors, athletes, and everyday people who span generations, backgrounds, and geography. Their shoes and apparel have graced athletes like Serena Williams and Michael Jordan, making Nike synonymous with their grit, perseverance, and accomplishment. That is why it is so noteworthy that this icon has leveraged its brand to bring adaptive fashion into the mainstream, bringing these sought after traits to market for individuals of all abilities around the world.
In February, Nike announced the long-awaited GO FlyEase, a hands-free sneaker that opts for a hinge mechanism over the straps or laces typical of a sneaker. With this announcement, the international powerhouse brand signaled very publicly what members of the disabled and chronic care community have recognized all their lives: the need for an adaptive fashion revolution.
But Nike’s early release of the GO FlyEase in late April was far from perfect. With launch dates that kept shifting and changing eligibility as to who could purchase the shoe, Nike reminded us that an accessible product still doesn’t mean an accessible purchase. The shoe was unfortunately released toselected Nike members only.
People with disabilities hoping to finally have a sneaker with a swoosh made for them were marginalized by the exclusive release – flooding social media to remind Nike that inclusivity in fashion is more than an innovative product – it's the way we buy and sell it, the way we promote it, and the way we resist Hype culture on behalf of equity culture. Yet still, simply because the fashion giant took this first step toward inclusive design, it will propel so many others to follow and ‘just do it,’ too. And we are excited to have more people join us in innovating in the space.
The Importance of Inclusivity Within Fashion
Fashion is more than what we put on our bodies – it’s about self-expression, individuality, belonging, and equipping people to live their lives as they want to. Fashion can transform an individual into something or someone completely different – wearing LeBron James’ sneakers can, for a moment, inspire you to jump higher, shoot better, and embody the all-star athlete himself. For those with special needs or living with disabilities, however, fashion can be a harsh and exclusionary industry, lacking in clothes and accessories that bridge style and comfort with accessibility and function.
While brands like Care+Wear, FFORA and Slick Chicks have been innovating in the adaptive fashion space for years now, name brands like Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, and Oscar de la Renta are setting a new standard of mainstream inclusivity – designing with the needs of real life, everyday people in mind.
Because, disability is not uncommon. In fact, according to the CDC, 1 in 4 adults in the United States have some type of disability, and Americans with disabilities are proving every day and every which way that they can not just do, but exceed at all the things they have been told they could never.
Breaking Down Barriers & Stigma Against Disability
Take paralympic Blake Leeper, who was born without legs and yet placed fifth in the 400m at the 2019 U.S. Championships. Take Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm in a shark attack, only to return to professional surfing just one year later and earn her first national title as an amputee at the NSSA Nationals Surfing Championship. Take Aaron Fotheringham, a full-time wheelchair user, who has pioneered gravity-defying stunts as a professional wheelchair motocross (WCMX) athlete and holds not one, but three Guinness World Records. And, finally, take my friend Yannick Benjamin, paralyzed in a car accident in 2003, who has since competed in several marathons. Each of these awe-inspiring individuals has defied society’s preconceived notions about what they were or weren’t capable of, and they aren't alone.
People with disabilities are breaking barriers – and it’s time the fashion industry caught up to them, because the problem isn’t – and never was – disability. The problem is the unchecked and normalized ableism in fashion.
Making A Stride in the Adaptive Fashion Space
With Nike and other household name designers like Tommy Hilfiger shining a spotlight on adaptive fashion, they are also making visible the stark absence of inclusive apparel in the fashion industry. They are showing that there is a market, and more importantly a need, for fashion that can respond to the circumstances of people living with disabilities or undergoing chronic care.
For Nike to prove itself as an icon and pioneer in this space, however, it must extend inclusivity and equity beyond the design of the shoe and into the design of the launch to ensure those who need the adaptive clothing it has designed have priority access to it.
Disability isn’t a trend, and neither is adaptive fashion. This can be the start of a new era for fashion – an industry rebuilt upon the inclusion, empowerment, and celebration of all, but only as long as more industry leaders follow in the footsteps of the pioneers of adaptive fashion and bring creators with disabilities to the design board and consumers with disabilities to mind.
Care+Wear is a healthwear company that is reimagining how the world looks at and feels about healthcare. By bridging fashion and function, Care+Wear is creating a more human healthcare experience for both patients and clinicians. Founded in 2014, Care+Wear works to promote dignity, style, and comfort through the creation of thoughtful products, designed in collaboration with clinicians, patients, designers, and manufacturers. Their suite of products includes post-surgical recovery bras, PICC line covers for chronic care patients, Oscar de la Renta port-access hoodies, patient gowns, PPE, a clinical line, and more. Care+Wear products are used in more than 80 hospital systems and governments globally, including the Mayo Clinic, Department of Veterans Affairs, University of Virginia Health, Massachusetts General Brigham’s, Kaiser Permanente, and more. To learn more about our mission, click here.