Seeking to be more inclusive, retailers increase adaptive clothing offerings

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the United States, more than one in four adults are living with “some type of disability.” That is a huge opportunity for today’s retailers to meet the needs of a significant market segment.


Retail responds for accessibility needs



For some time, retailers have adapted their online presence as well as their physical stores to meet the needs of people with physical challenges.

Online websites, for example, must ensure the proper use of HTML, so assistive technology can accurately interpret the page content. In addition, the tab key should be able to navigate through all an ecommerce site’s web pages and access all interactive features.

But while retailers are making their websites more accessible, the items they sell do not always meet everyone’s needs. Gradually, clothing retailers have started to recognize the segment of people with disabilities by offering adaptive clothing, i.e., apparel that helps people with disabilities to get dressed or to simply live life. The segment includes people with specific physical impairments, the elderly and people who have recently had surgery.


Adapted for style & function


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Tommy Hilfiger drew on its athletic wear experience, which focuses on movement, performance and functionality, to create its Tommy Adaptive collection.

Hallmarks of these pieces include easy closures, ease of movement, seated wear, easy open necklines, magnetic buttons, hook and loop closures, internal pull-up hoops, low front and high back, part openings, and side seam openings. The designer was inspired to create a line of adaptive clothing when he saw the dressing challenges faced by his autistic daughter and son.

Hilfiger is not alone. Ugg’s iconic shearling lined boots are now available with side zippers for easy access and pull tabs on the back to help secure the shoe. Aerie has partnered with Abilitee Adaptive Wear to offer adaptive accessories, such as fabric belts to hold insulin pumps and water-resistant ostomy bag covers.

But the big brand names are also facing competition from startups who saw an opportunity to serve people’s needs and jumped on it.

For example, Careandwear realized cancer patients have unique clothing needs during treatment. In response, it developed and sells a Chest Port Hoodie, which provides wearer easy access to a chemo port. And Alter Ur Ego makes comfortable and adaptive jeans that feature accessible pockets, elastic waistbands, and straps for easy dressing.

Today, brands are reaching out to the disabled community, confronting social-emotional, environmental, and physical barriers and exceeding those customers’ expectations.

Slowly but surely, retailers are providing products for the one-quarter of the population that identifies as having a disability.