With advancing medical science, humans are happy to note that the successful births, despite complications, have improved along with the rate of life expectancy, but in the midst of all the miracles of the science, we neglect to see the price we are paying for them… A recent study shows that globally one in every 10 people aged over 60 currently has some mental disability and more than 65% kids born prematurely or despite complications, turn out to be ‘differently abled’ children. This has created a huge market for adaptive clothing, which has largely gone unnoticed by big retailers and brands. But with adaptive clothing now getting more fashionable, along with being functional, mainline retailers are standing up and taking note…
As per a survey by the Health Resources and Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services taken in 2008, 10.2 million children in US had special healthcare needs, which accounts for 14% of all US children. The figures excluded the adults in need of healthcare services. The survey also found that at least 12% of such families are struggling with the demands of caring for a special needs child, which includes apparel as well. Similarly, a recent survey in the UK revealed that the number of children aged between two and four who were assessed as having special needs by nurseries has risen by 19% in two years to 31,350.
Further, about 2.7 million US residents older than age 85 are suffering from Alzheimer and it is estimated that the number will reach about 3.5 million in 2031, while the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in the UK will double over the next 40 years. Currently, the degenerative brain disorder affects about 7,00,000 Britons and as the population ages, the figure will rise to 1.5 million.
A majority of people, diagnosed in either case, demonstrate sensitivity to certain clothing even if they haven’t been officially diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), making the patients dress, a constant and major concern and thus the demand for adaptive clothing is both present and still largely unmet. Indeed it is surprising that a lot of hospitals, old age institutions, patients and their families, even in so-called developed nations are still struggling to find manufacturers of adaptive clothing. Due to lack of retailers and manufacturers in the market, and to meet the demands of adaptive clothing, more and more private labels are entering the business.
Often started by inspiration or need, adaptive clothing today is found with designs both stylish and functional
Some small yet smart designers have also entered the sector in the last couple of years like Soft Clothing, a special needs clothing brands for kids, that features clothes with flat seams, tagless necks, encased elastic waistbands and an absence of zippers, buttons, or itchy trims, yet maintains a collection with everyday mix ’n match” basic elements. Another specialised retailer Teres Kids, offers active clothing with 100% organic cotton. Buck and Buck Designs, a company with clothes for special need adults, has special features such as open back, side zip, and garments with velcro closures that are made to look like everyday, ordinary clothing, but that are easy to wear and care for. Cut Outs Design, a designer store specifically makes designs for people in wheelchairs.
Adaptive clothing are now being specially designed for seniors, handicapped, hospital pre- and post-surgery, rehabilitation or patients with temporary or permanent disability. Adaptive swim wear is also available for active and disabled seniors. Adaptive clothing, as the name suggests, is not confined to clothes, the range also includes, clothing proctor bibs and vests, bandannas, shirts, lapkins, jumpsuits, elastic waist pants, and capes. Companies such as Golden Wear Clothing, Professional Fit Clothing, Dignified Bibs, Buck and Buck, Silverts, and Adrian’s Closet all provide variations of adaptive apparel and incontinence products. Some other examples of companies that make clothing for children with special needs are Adaptations by Adrian, Mini Miracles Children’s Clothing, The Callhans and Talon Clothing. Apart from the growing number of stores for the clothing, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of online sites for the same as well.
Now the market is slowly attracting the attention of mainline retailers. The recent 2012 campaign of Target, featuring a boy with ‘down’ syndrome without creating any noise or giving any extra coverage, signals that his presence in the catalogue was nothing out of the ordinary, but just another person looking stylish. This is the first sign that these special people with special needs are being integrated into the mainstream. JCPenney and Walmart have also indicated their interest in serving this niche market segment. JCPenney is already selling elastic-waist pants with a plain front through its private label Towncraft, which is a hit with mother’s of disabled child and adults who cannot manipulate a button, snap or zippers. Offered in varied sizes and colours, the material is sturdy and can withstand daily washing.