Julie Christian is a woman of many talents, but when this former policewoman started at the Rhode Island School of Design and later convinced a tailor to take her on as an apprentice, she had no idea she'd ever be using her talents to help people with diabetes. Today, she makes beautiful custom dresses for girls who wear insulin pumps.
In fact, the life story of this Massachusetts woman is pretty remarkable in itself: she went from stay-at-home mom who recognized she was caught in a cycle of emotional and verbal abuse with her now ex-husband, to homeless shelter volunteer and police officer, to eventually a recognized and respected dressmaker.
While she doesn't live with diabetes herself, the growing impact she's having on the Diabetes Community is certainly worth noting. You can feel her passion woven into every word when Christian talks about her work, and we're excited to share that story at the 'Mine today.
Becoming a Dressmaker
It all started when Christian couldn’t find a high-quality women’s suit to wear for job interviews. She got connected with a tailor, but he initially refused to make her a suit. She persisted, and her dedication to this personal mission led to her eventually convincing him to take her on as an apprentice. This was an unusual career path for Christian to suddenly follow, given her journey took her from stay-at-home mom to caregiver at a homeless shelter, to police officer and then late college student.
When entrusted with the keys to the shop while the tailor was on an extended trip, Christian was inspired to expand her skills and began working with patterns to make dresses for her nieces. “I figured if I was going to be there, I was going to learn something new,” she says.
Christian ended up crafting beautiful, one-of-a-kind dresses.
“These aren’t just the $35 dresses that you find, wear once and throw away,” she said. “I wanted to make dresses that wouldn’t end up in the trash cycle, that would not only last but be special heirloom pieces.”
She took some of her dresses to an art fair to show off and sell, and that’s where she met a little girl who would impact her creations: 12-year-old Julia and the girl's mother. Little Julia lives with type 1 diabetes and wears an insulin pump -- and also happens to love wearing dresses but found that complicated because of her insulin pump. She showed Christian the issue around wearing her pump with dresses, and how she attempted to use pockets or a clip to hold the device in place.
Could Christian make her a special dress, the tween wondered?
Christian recalls being terrified when asked that question and she didn't immediately know how to respond, but it set the stage for her future path.
Designing Diabetes-Friendly Dresses for Girls
“At first I didn’t realize that her (infusion) site moved around but I did understand that she had to have a secure pocket and I couldn’t make that one-size-fits-all either,” Christian says.
She quickly learned about how insulin pumps work as well as how much they cost. She also learned how Julia used her insulin pump at school (which would include having to lift up her skirt for the nurse to access her pump). She first made a prototype out of muslin, then made the final dress and delivered it.
“When I came to deliver Julia’s dress, she answered the door and had a lavender streak in her hair to match her new dress,” Christian recalled. “It was an honor for me that she was so excited for her dress that she dyed her hair.”
- Each dress Christian makes is custom and unique for the girl who will wear it. They are all hand-hemmed and the buttons and buttonholes are also hand sewn.
- She sews a special pocket on the front of each dress to hold the insulin pump, measured specifically to the device size to allow for a tight, secure fit. The pocket is camouflaged with the color/style of the dress.
- The pump tubing is strung through the inside of the pocket underneath the dress, allowing it to connect to the infusion site wherever that may be on the body, or through the arm/sleeve to connect to an arm site (an Omnipod PDM could also fit into a tailored pocket).
- Christian includes her own custom label in each dress and sews a crucifix into the hem as a way to send a part of her faith with the dresses.
- She also writes each girl a letter to go with the dress; when she makes dresses for insulin pumps, she talks about how diabetes and their pumps are part of their journey and tells them that every stitch has their name on it.
Here is a YouTube video that Christian shared, describing how her D-friendly dresses are designed.
A little oddly, Christian does not like to talk publicly about the pricing of these dresses. We get the impression they are not cheap, but that she works with each family individually to set manageable pricing.
Christian also says that while her niche is dresses for girls and currently specializes on insulin pump-friendly versions at this point, she's also interested in other special needs and wants to explore requests for other designs. She's developing a website for her budding business, and in the meantime encourages anyone with questions to contact her directly at email@example.com.
Once word got out about her work, more people began reaching out to Christian for diabetes-friendly dresses. Of course, young Julia has been a willing model and avid ambassador for Christian's dresses.
The impact of those dresses on the quality of life experience for these little girls was evident recently when Julia was modeling a dress at a diabetes charity fundraiser at the Renegade Run Obstacle Course.
At the time, Julia wasn’t going to do the inflatable obstacle course because she didn’t consider herself an athlete, but Christian proposed they do the obstacle course together… in their dresses!
“Julia finished the obstacle course well before me,” Christian says. “I told her, ‘See? You’re an athlete. I’m a runner and you beat me! Not only did she beat me, her insulin pump stayed in place the whole time.”
Christian is proud that these dresses are helping young girls with type 1 feel more confident and empowered.
“Julia doesn’t stand out because she has this illness, she stands out because she has loads of confidence and is a trendsetter with her gorgeous dress.”