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Fashion For All 

By Sarah Stone

At the end of the 2021 Threads Senior Collection show, 321 Coffee barista Matthew spoke to the audience about the impact of the “Sonder” collection.

“We look beautiful today, and because of that, we are confident.”

Every fall, Wilson College of Textiles students enroll in the course to develop their own runway-ready collections. Team members from 321 Coffee modeled Mary Grace Wilder and Sabrina Martin’s collection.

“I loved doing the fashion show with Mary Grace and it makes me happy,” barista Dreyahna says.

321 Coffee employs baristas with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The small business, founded by NC State alumna Lindsay Wrege, made the perfect partner for “Sonder,” which aimed to showcase ways that beautiful and expressive clothing can be accessible to consumers anywhere on the spectrum of physical and cognitive abilities.

“If you search adaptive clothing on Google, it’s usually combined with the category of ‘senior clothing’ and ‘medical clothing,’ and it’s not the same,” master’s student Sabrina Martin says. “There are kids who have adaptive needs. There are teenagers. There are adults across every age, and the clothes you’re wearing every day shouldn’t look like you just walked out of a hospital room.”

Models styled by Martin and Wilder

Martin and Wilder created looks for 12 models, some with disabilities and others without. They designed every garment to be something that a consumer would want to wear even if they don’t need the adaptive features.

“There doesn’t need to be a whole different market for this,” master’s student Mary Grace Wilder says.

Motivated by loved ones, guided by an expert

Both Martin and Wilder started the course with plans to develop some sort of adaptive line. Each has watched someone important to them – for Wilder, a family member with Parkinson’s Disease, and for Martin, a family friend with Down Syndrome – struggle to find clothing that’s easy to put on, comfortable to wear and stylish enough to feel confident in.

“At the beginning of the semester, when they both approached me and said this is what they wanted to do, I said, ‘You need to work together,’” Associate Professor Kate Annett-Hitchcock remembers.

The timing was nothing short of serendipitous. Annett-Hitchcock’s research specializes in inclusive apparel, and she taught Threads for the first time last semester.

“I honestly could not pick a better person to teach this class for the collection that we’re doing,” Wilder says. “It’s really helpful to have somebody with this experience who can give you great suggestions.”

Developing specialized solutions that work for everyone

Designers had to incorporate specialized solutions to address specific needs of nearly every model in the collection. Moreover, they had to do so in a way that the garment wouldn’t look or feel out of the ordinary to a consumer without that specific need.

To account for models with sensitivities, Martin and Wilder used fabrics made from natural fibers.

They also employed Shima Seiki technology to make whole-knit garments without seams.

“It’s supposed to have capabilities of cocooning, so making someone feel like they’re being hugged,” Martin says. “That helps with nerve stimulation.”

Other adaptive features included drawstring sleeves, alternative closures and accordion side paneling.

Martin and Wilder in design studio

More than a project

Just a few weeks after the collection’s launch, both Martin and Wilder have plans to continue their work on inclusive apparel.

Martin is gearing her master’s thesis towards the topic under the direction of Annett-Hitchcock, and Wilder is centering her final project on a similar focus.

Leaders in the field are also noticing the pair’s work. The North Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Association (NCSCIA) helped connect Martin and Wilder with a model for the show. Now, the NCSCIA has invited both of the students, as well as Annett-Hitchcock, to help with a fashion show at its women’s conference this spring.

Their ultimate goal, however, is to recreate their Threads collection and their partnership on a larger scale.

“It would be a dream come true for something like this to be our career and to bring the joy that we brought to our models to a bigger population,” Martin says. “This experience just confirmed exactly what I think we’re both meant to do.”

Martin and Wilder in the studio

This post was originally published in Wilson College of Textiles News.