At the start of New York Fashion Week, the Runway of Dreams foundation presented a fashion show featuring people with disabilities wearing adaptive clothing by Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and Target. (Sept. 6)
For Jai Srinivasan, fitting in is about not standing out.
The 8-year-old model from Ashburn, Virginia, says he likes wearing “cool” adaptive clothing because they make him feel confident.
Jai, who has cerebral palsy and wears a brace on his left arm, now has more options.
Kohl’s announced Wednesday that it has added clothing designed for people with disabilities into its three largest kids’ brands – Jumping Beans, SO and Urban Pipeline – that look just like clothing worn by their peers but are easier to wear.
The Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based retailer is one of the largest to join the growing adaptive clothing market, which Coresight Research estimates will reach nearly $289 billion globally and $47.3 billion in the U.S. this year.
“They’re easier to get on because the buttons are magnets or Velcro,” Jai told USA TODAY. “I want to be like everybody else.”
According to a 2017 U.S. Census Bureau report, more than 40 million adults in the U.S. have a disability. More than 14 million of them have difficulties with daily living activities such as dressing, while nearly 8 million adults report difficulty with self care.
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The dozens of items in Kohl’s lines are designed for babies through young adults. Aside from the Velcro or magnetic closures, some adaptive items are tagless, don’t have seams, and materials may be softer for children with sensory sensitivity.
“Just because we are creating clothing for unique needs doesn’t mean that it needs to be basic,” said Kara Smoltich, associate product manager for Jumping Beans, in a statement. “We have made every effort to ensure that the product looks as close to our core line as possible.”
Other major retailers and brands with adaptive clothing include Tommy Hilfiger, Target, Nike, Zappos and Lands’ End.
Runway of Dreams
Most mainstream adaptive clothing lines exist today because of the non-profit Runway of Dreams Foundation.
Fashion designer Mindy Scheier started the foundation in 2014, after her son Oliver, then 8, who has a rare form of muscular dystrophy, asked why he couldn’t wear jeans to school. Back then, sweatpants were his only option and what fit over his leg braces.
In 2016, the foundation partnered with Tommy Hilfiger, which launched the first mainstream adaptive clothing line, Tommy Adaptive.
In 2018, during New York Fashion Week, Runway of Dreams and an adaptive clothing show kicked off the event with Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and Target lines.
“In a very short amount of time the industry is listening,” said Scheier, of Livingston, New Jersey. “They are understanding that people with disabilities represent the largest minority we have on our planet. So not including them in the fashion conversation is not only not the right thing but it’s not good business.”
Erin Hawley doesn’t care if she wins or loses, but with adaptive controllers, she and so many other disabled gamers are able to play the game.
There’s a personal connection with Kohl’s launch too.
Judy Koepsel, a technical design manager for kids at Kohl’s who has a 3-year-old daughter with developmental and sensory needs, helped form a group of Kohl’s employees who have someone with a disability of complex medical needs.
“We aligned on what needed to be considered when fitting, such as how a pant fits when sitting down, could the pockets still be used, is the shirt long enough to cover in the back, and so forth,” Koepsel said in a statement.
Like it has for Jai, Kohl’s said in the statement that the company hopes the new clothes will inspire confidence in children who wear it.
Before Jai had adaptive clothing, he needed assistance going to the bathroom and getting dressed, his mom Kate Sowerwine said.
“The fact that he could open and close it by himself and the smile on his face,” she said. “It gave him independence.”
Jai started modeling and working with Runaway of Dreams soon after trying the Tommy Hilfiger line. Jai’s service dog, Banks, a golden lab, was also featured in the Kohl’s photo shoot.
“The confidence that Jai gets from modeling clothing and wearing clothes that are specially adapted for him, it’s like sports for other kids,” Sowerwine said.
Like the other brands, the Kohl’s products are only available online, which is something Sowerwine and Scheier hope will one day change.
“There are a lot of kids and adults with disabilities and they also want some choice in their fashion,” Sowerwine said. “I would love to walk into the store and see adaptive clothing right next to the regular.”
Scheier hopes Kohl’s announcement will encourage more brands to come on board and for adaptive to become the next division within the fashion industry.
“The reality is it’s easier to find clothes for dogs than it is for people with disabilities,” she said.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko
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