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Vanguard: News from the College of Human Environmental Sciences

TAM Aims to Reduce Apparel-Related Barriers Experienced by People Living with Disabilities Through a Semester Full of Design and Disability Events

By Kristen Morris

This spring, faculty in the Department of Textile and Apparel Management (TAM) in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at MU are providing students with opportunities to redesign apparel and retail environments so they are inclusive of people living with disabilities.

In March, Dr. Kristen Morris, Dr. Li Zhao, and Kerri McBee-Black hosted a panel of industry experts and consumers in a symposium to discuss ways to design and market clothing that is inclusive of people living with disabilities. Over 150 students, staff, faculty, and members of the Columbia community attended the symposium. Adaptive apparel is one option available to people living with disabilities. Adaptive apparel includes mass-marketed clothing intentionally designed to address the specific needs of people living with disabilities.

The symposium panelists represented different aspects of the apparel supply chain, from fabric developers to apparel producers, and end-consumers. Morris, Zhao, and McBee-Black felt that it was important to have multiple voices from across the apparel industry represented on the panel for a well-rounded discussion about the clothing barriers imposed on people living with disabilities. The panelists included Wendy Blankinship from Cotton Incorporated, a non-profit that promotes the use of cotton in apparel products; William Herron and Jillian Jankovsky from NBZ Adaptive International, an Ohio-based adaptive apparel retailer who produces jeans for adults and children with disabilities (www.nbzapparel.com); Chuck Graham, Co-Director of the Great Plains ADA Center, housed within the Department of Architectural Studies in HES; and Kate Chadwick and her son Skyler who represented end consumers of adaptive apparel.

Chuck, Kate, and Skyler spoke about the issues they experience with mass-market apparel, including fit, looking professional, durability, and cost. For example, Chuck explained that when he was serving in the Missouri House of Representatives and the Missouri Senate, he could not find suits off the rack that fit well and looked professional. So he invested in custom-made suits made by a tailor who also made uniforms for horseback riders. The tailor understood how to create garments that are comfortable when in a seated position. Kate spoke about her experiences finding clothing that is comfortable for her son Skyler who has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and a sensory processing disorder. Skyler discussed how he has intense reactions to fabric textures and pressure and friction caused by clothes.

Wendy provided ideas about how to address these specific user-issues through fabric innovations which increase clothing durability and functionality for consumers with disabilities. Jillian and William shared the specific garment design, fit, and marketing approaches of adaptive apparel products for the clients of NBZ. Specifically, Jillian explained how NBZ was the first retailer to create jeans specifically for people living with Downs Syndrome who have stomach sensitivity. Further, William discussed how NBZ was one of a select-few businesses and organizations selected to participate at the White House’s Design for All showcase in 2016.

From Left: Chuck Graham, Skyler Chadwick, Kate Chadwick, Jillian Jankovsky, William Herron, and Wendy Blankinship

Clockwise From Left: Li Zhao, Wendy Blankinship, Kristen Morris, Kate Chadwick, Kerri McBee-Black, Jillian Jankovsky, William Herron, Anna Moritz, Chuck Graham, Skyler Chadwick and Rylie Bryant. Anna and Rylie are undergraduate research assistants for this project.

Jillian Jankovsky from NBZ Apparel talking about how she perfected the fit and design of the Downs for Designs jeans collection.

For the students attending who are participating in Drs. Morris and Zhao’s classes, the symposium was an opportunity to hear multiple perspectives about adaptive apparel from people across the industry—first-hand information for their course projects. The symposium marked the half-way point in a larger curriculum that is focusing on designing and marketing clothing for people living with disabilities. Students in TAM 3480 Technical Design are addressing the challenges people living with disabilities experience with clothing by designing a small collection of adaptive apparel garments and students in TAM 3700 Omni-Channel Retailing, are analyzing the adaptive apparel market to propose solutions to enhance people living with disabilities shopping experiences and develop mock websites and social media content promoting cotton as a barrier-breaking fiber for adaptive apparel. Both courses have been working together throughout the semester to ensure the problem of apparel for people living with disabilities is addressed from the holistic product development process.

In April, students, and the greater Mizzou community had an additional opportunity to consider how apparel impacts the daily lives of people living with disabilities when Mindy Schreier, founder of Runway of Dreams spoke on campus for the Margaret Mangle Lectureship Series in HES. In a public event and visits in two TAM courses, Mindy talked about her personal experiences as a mother and caretaker of her son who has a disability.

Overall, the spring semester was rich with opportunity for students and the greater community to exchange ideas about how to reduce the apparel-related barriers for people living with disabilities. Events focused on the issues of design and disability as an important topic for students to consider, particularly as they prepare to enter the apparel workforce where there is a greater focus on design for underserved apparel markets.