Tommy Hilfiger Launches A Clothing Line For Kids With Disabilities

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Forget everything you know about Tommy Hilfiger, because in our eyes he is no longer going to be known as the designer whose campaigns only feature preppy, white, good-looking college kids. The famed fashion icon has just released a collection of clothing that is more in line with the movement for diversity and inclusion, than exclusive high fashion retail clothing.

The news comes at a welcome time, when New York Fashion Week just featured a runway show created by Italian brand FTL Moda where all the models were differently-abled. We saw prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs and bodies that for so long have been excluded from the high fashion runway stages around the world, but are now becoming an important part of the conversation.

After all, if fashion really IS for everyone, shouldn’t literally every body be represented as much as possible? Tommy Hilfiger’s new clothing line called Adaptive Clothing, created in collaboration with an organization called Runway of Dreams whose mission it is to promote inclusive fashion, is specifically geared toward disabled kids.

The pieces in the collection are the same as the designer’s existing kids collection, except there are specific modifications made in order to cater to the needs of kids who are differently-abled than others. There are some pieces which have magnets and velcro instead of buttons and zippers, and adjustable waistbands.

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The majority of the ideas came from Mindy Scheier who founded Runway of Dreams in 2013 because of her son who has muscular dystrophy. The New Jersey-based mom and entrepreneur says this collection helps kids to get dressed easily who don’t have the same functionality as kids without disabilities, and it also helps parents to dress the kids.

“There are magnets down the backs of the T-shirts, for example, so you can go in hands first. Putting a shirt on over your head if you have low muscle tone or missing digits can be a very difficult task,” she told Today.com.

Mindy said Tommy Hilfiger is the first major designer to actually take the leap to work on a collection such as this, despite speaking to a number of designers within the industry to encourage them to take up the cause for inclusion. To her, it only makes sense that a brand would cater to disabled people, as well as all other body types.

“If you think about it, we have petite departments, plus-size departments, even pets’ clothing departments! But we have nothing for the disabled community. I think that feels like the next natural step. It’s going to be our new normal. That’s really the amazing thing about this — it’s incredibly inclusive,” she said.

The line features 22 pieces in total for girls and boys and is priced the same as the regular kids clothing line (ranging from $18.50 to $42.50). In an op-ed for Time, Mindy talks about the person experiences she faced with her own son and why this clothing line is such an important step in the right direction.

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“When Oliver turned 8, he, like many kids his age, started to care about his wardrobe. He began to notice how the other kids dressed and asked me one day if he could wear jeans instead of the sweatpants he usually wore for ease over his leg braces. I was faced with a difficult and heartbreaking decision as his mother: Do I send my son to school in jeans, knowing his leg brace would not fit underneath and that going to the bathroom alone would not be possible? Or do I tell him he can’t wear what the other kids are wearing because of his disability?” she wrote.

With her own experience working as a designer and stylist, Mindy knew how to best adapt her son’s clothing with things such as magnets and velcro to make it easier for him to dress himself. When she would speak with other parents of disabled children, she started to realize they have the same problems with clothing and wondered why there weren’t more options available from clothing brands to cater to special needs. It seems ridiculous, because the market is substantial.

“Currently, about 15% of people globally live with a disability, according to the World Health Organization. Among children ages 5 to 17 in the United States, 5.4% have a disability, according to the 2015 Disability Statistics Annual Report. These numbers are higher than most people assume and underscore the need for designers and retailers to take a close look at this space,” she explained.

She pointed out how models such as Jillian Mercado, and down syndrome model Madeline Stuart walking in a NYFW show is a great step forward, but the real push needs to come from big retail brands.

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“Runway of Dreams has developed a formula to adapt mainstream clothing so that designers and retailers can join us in making fashion a reality for the people living with disabilities…Most importantly, we connect retailers to the differently-abled community to share their unique insight on what’s needed to transform getting dressed from a disheartening experience to an empowering and motivational one,” she said.

Mindy also hopes to see more brands looking at Tommy Hilfiger’s example and follow suit.

“Tommy Hilfiger is the first of what I believe will be many brands to do this. It’s time for the industry to come together to make change happen—to see this consumer market as an exciting chance to engage new shoppers, but more importantly, to make an impact,” she said.

This move to break down stigma and show these disabled kids that they belong and their voices count in the world is both brilliant and powerful. When you watch the Runway of Dreams video below, hearing each of the kids talk about the traits they like most about themselves (funny, kind, confident, energetic) you start to get the sense that there should be no reason to exclude them from fashion. The more we celebrate diversity and the fact that each of us is different, the more realistic it will be to see major designers and brands cater to all bodies.

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