Kristy Sullivan’s daughter, Adelaide, is 3 years old.
Due to her conditions, Adelaide wears ankle braces (ankle foot orthosis, or AFO) and routinely has to use either a walker or a wheelchair.
As you might imagine, dressing her is tough.
“Most girl pants are tapered,” Sullivan told Healthline. “Those are an issue to get over her AFOs. Shoes are a problem, too. We need shoes wide enough to accommodate her AFOs. The kind with stretchy elastic built-in laces are better than tie laces for us. And Velcro doesn’t work because the strap is never long enough to reach over an AFO to connect to the other side.”
Meredith Liberman can relate.
Her 4-year-old, Quinn, has to wear a chest cast that is rebuilt every six to eight weeks due to early onset scoliosis.
She also has a condition called hemihypertrophy, which causes the overgrowth of various body parts.
One leg is longer and has a visible difference in circumference than the other. There is almost an entire size difference between her two feet.
“We usually have to size up everything she wears,” Liberman told Healthline. “And she wears a lot of dresses and skirts.”
Innovations in clothing design
It was a desire to accommodate children with similar issues that first brought New Jersey mom Mindy Scheier to Tommy Hilfiger.
Scheier, the creator of nonprofit Runway of Dreams, wanted to see more mainstream options for kids and adults like her son, who has rigid spine syndrome (a form of muscular dystrophy).
Scheier had been adding magnets to her son’s clothes so he could wear jeans like his friends. These closures allowed the pants to fit over his leg braces. It also made it easier for him to go to the bathroom.
It was innovations such as these that caught the attention of designers at Tommy Hilfiger.
In 2016, Tommy Hilfiger launched a line of adaptive clothing for kids, the first mainstream brand to do so. And today, that line includes options for men, women, and children.
“We began to research the market and recognized this product was missing,” a representative from Tommy Hilfiger explained to Healthline. “This wasn’t a market that was underserved. It was never served by mainstream fashion brands at all.”
Clothing for active, productive people
It’s an issue that Lale’ Welsh, chief executive officer of the Neuromuscular Disease Foundation, knows all too well.
“Our patients have an adult-onset, muscle-wasting disease that first affects their feet, then their fingers, hands and upper body — in that order,” Welsh told Healthline. “Because it’s genetic and many of them don’t see it coming, they tend to care about fashion more than, say, patients who have had a similar condition since birth. Not finding cool/sexy/easy-to-wear clothes is one of the biggest complaints I get.”
For Welsh’s patients, mainstream clothes can present a host of issues.
They have problems pulling up zippers, buttoning blouses, and wearing tightly fitted clothes.
They often have to wear a size up, and many prefer straight or boot-cut (cuffed) pants so that they can grab onto the cuffs to pull their legs up into a car.
Long sleeves are a challenge, as they can restrict hand movements.
And elastic waists are typically better for movement.
But, as Welsh explains, “Many of our patients are vital, productive, attractive people with a lot to offer. It’s sad and unnecessary for them to have to relax their choices in clothing when they’ve already yielded the loss of so many other options in life.”
She looked over Tommy Hilfiger’s offerings herself, and reached out to some of her patients to find out what they think.
“I’m impressed. The patients like the magnetic buttons,” she said. “Though some of them would not be able to reach up to their shoulders to snap the magnetic buttons on the shift dresses.”
Prices are a concern
There are a few other issues as well, according to Sullivan.
“The magnets on the pants are a great idea. I like that a lot,” she said. “What I don’t like, and I’m sorry to be blunt, are the prices. We spend over $5,000 a year on medical expenses and therapy and can’t afford $50 for a single pair of pants. We don’t even buy the fancy shoes designed to fit over AFOs because I’d rather get a more inexpensive pair and just hack them myself.”
Welsh expressed a similar concern.
“Our patients are often rendered unemployed/unemployable and many are on a budget, so cost is a big consideration,” she said. “Because of this, many favor the Target brand that I guess just came out. However, some of our patients are used to having been fashion-conscious and now very much lament the loss of access to chic clothing, so Tommy Hilfiger and brands like that will fare well provided they continue to work with patient advocacy groups to collaborate on the functionality portion of the designs.”
That seems to be something the brand is interested in doing, as their representative told Healthline.
“We will continue to listen to customer feedback to determine how we can improve the adaptive line to cater to the community’s needs,” the representative said.
Now and the future
For now, the Tommy Hilfiger adaptive line includes:
- magnetic shoulder attachments
- front and back closures to assist in pulling clothes over the head
- Velcro brand closures and magnetic flies for ease in wearing pants, jeans, and chinos
- adjusted leg openings and hems to accommodate leg braces and orthotics
- magnetic zippers to enable individuals to zip and unzip with one hand
- pull-on pant loops inside the waist bands that fit around the wrist
It’s certainly a start, and having a mainstream brand take on this cause is a first step toward more options being available for all.
That’s what Liberman hopes, at least.
“My sincerest hope is that when my daughter is older, the lessons that she learns from her years of medical appointments are not that she is different or in need of special treatment, but that she is strong, that she has and can conquer anything set in front of her, and that she has a unique perspective and influence she can offer the world,” Liberman said.
“Even though clothes shouldn’t impact that, as people the way we look is often our first impression. Adaptive clothing can give my daughter, and others like her, the chance to be on even footing with other children when they first enter a room. It’s one less thing that could potentially set them apart.”