A Columbia College class designs clothing for people with mobility issues | Popgen Tech
Fashion is cool and fun, bold and young.
You can see this just by walking into Reyes Witt’s classroom at Columbia College Chicago and noticing what her students are wearing. Sleeveless hooded top at Adam Salam, 20. Black off-the-shoulder bat blouse at Paige Burnby, 20. Black slip worn as a turtleneck dress at Sandra Walkowitz, 21. Don’t overlook the bright Pink Madison Chain is worn with a sequined mini dress and white knee high boots.
But fashion can be both functional and fun, aimed at seniors rather than children, as the course title, Design Solutions for Fashion Design, and what Vito’s students have been up to for the past 15 weeks, creating wearable clothes for , who face physical challenges, such as elderly people with mobility limitations, people who are in wheelchairs, wear absorbent underwear, or require help getting dressed.
Students conceptualized their designs while learning how to use new 3D software, and then created prototype garments. Today, the top three designs were presented by Joe & Bella, a new Chicago-based company that designs and sells adaptive clothing for seniors and people with disabilities.
As soon as the students are ready, ie.
“Some people are still sewing,” Witt says as the class begins.
In comes Ben Graham, Vice President of Marketing for Joe & Bella.
“We’ll pick one and give it to our design team to finalize,” he says. “Put it on our website and sell it.”
First up is a blue unisex shift jacket with zippered sleeves.
“We had a few problems,” Salameh says, pointing to the prototype on a dressmaker’s mannequin. “We used this material we discussed last time.”
The pockets were pushed forward.
“Usually we think of side pockets, but they’re not accessible when you’re in a wheelchair,” says Norma Espinoza, 20, her blue pin-striped top adorned with green earrings.
The second is the beige sleep pants.
“Our goal here was to make it easy for people with incontinence,” explains Faith Redo, 20, wearing a black vest and purple faux-leather pants. “Both panels come off completely.”
The elastic on the belt did not want to cooperate.
“We figured it out this weekend,” she says. “We were killing ourselves over it.”
Finally, the women’s check poncho blouse.
“It shows the evolution of our design process,” says Hugo Colin, 22, wearing a pompadour and denim jacket. “It’s easy to dress someone up. You can put it on their heads, zip it up. Less worries. It gives your customers more options”
As the presentations come to a close, Graham gives encouragement.
“All three hit it out of the park,” he says. “Way to go. It’s really amazing. Picking one product to move forward is not easy.”
He reminds students that there is an important lifestyle element to fashion design.
“What you’re doing here is real,” he says. “It’s going to affect people a lot. Doing things to help other people live easier and look good while they’re doing it.”
Graham has nothing but praise for the students.
“They worked so hard,” he says later. “They listened very carefully. They knew how to take constructive criticism like professionals. They understood our mission quite quickly.”
This mission is to overcome consumer resistance to adaptive clothing for the elderly to make it more fashionable and popular, such as children’s clothing or maternity clothing, which are also types of adaptive clothing.
“We’re trying to normalize it,” Graham says. “It’s quite normal to have physical disabilities. Getting old is very normal. Let’s do something beautiful. Let’s celebrate this outfit.”
In the end, Graham chooses a poncho/top combo that must be on the Joe & Bella website for pre-order within 60 days. Some of the proceeds will be donated to Columbia as a scholarship.
The students switched gears without any problems.
“I think there’s a lot of glamor and glitz in the design,” says Salameh. “So it’s very interesting to delve into this area and think about functionality rather than appearance. It was all very exciting, combining fashion with innovation and adaptability.”
“It’s really nice to know that we can help someone solve a real-life problem that they have every day,” says Grace Gomez, 20, wearing a mocha sweater dress and black pearl stockings. “It’s something people don’t think about. We live in a can-do society, and people don’t think about how others need help.”