The Outsight: What if functional clothes weren’t just functional? How can technology and design help the fashion industry become more inclusive?
When you go shopping, what do you think about when buying clothes? Fit? Color? Style? Maybe the fabric’s texture?
But have you ever had to consider if a piece of clothing would be too difficult to wear?
Sure, we all have experienced fumbling with buttons, needed help pulling up a back zipper, or had to wiggle ourselves into a tight pair of pants - but hardly ever these inconveniences stop us from being able to wear a fashion item.
However, for people with physical challenges such as disabilities or due to old age, these inconveniences of modern fashion are often amplified, and dressing up on any given day can be a true obstacle-course (even for caregivers) - which can obviously impact not only their dignity and self-esteem but also their independence.
“You shouldn’t need the flexibility of a gymnast or the dexterity of a pianist just to put on your clothes,” Elisa Lim, founder of Will&Well
Personally, I often think about fashion inclusivity when it comes to sizing (like tall, petite or plus), but I have to admit I have never thought about it from this perspective and how much some fashion features can be debilitating and restrictive if you have any kind of physical impediment.
Of course there are options of functional clothing out there - but have you ever seen what’s available? It’s a lot, A LOT, of black and white shapeless, bland and boring items. Sure, these companies address the functional part, but oof.. Not many of them are necessarily considering the style side of things - and the ultimate question then is: why?
That’s when I came across Will&Well, a brand from Singapore that focuses on Functional Fashion. Note that I wrote functional FASHION, not clothing. And that’s a big difference.
Learning about their approach to fashion was both eye-opening and humbling, and I was so mind-blown about how innovative and, honestly, life-changing their designs can be for their clients that I couldn’t help but to explore.
What I think is the most interesting about this brand is that they combine design-thinking and technology with fashion in a way that delivers on the accessibility of the pieces without compromising the style.
Elisa Lim, the company’s young founder, was in fashion school when a doctor whom she knew asked if she could design some clothes for some of his bedridden patients - that invitation changed her perspective on fashion and gave her a renewed sense of purpose.
With her final year graduation project, a collection for wheelchair users, Elisa did some serious research and spoke to many patients and caregivers and it became clear that functional clothes couldn’t be purely driven by functionality, “or else you might as well just wear hospital garb” as Elisa herself said in an interview.
Will&Well is first and foremost a fashion label and Elisa’s perspective changed when she asked one of her research participants what was the most important when dressing up, and she replied “First, it has to look good on me”.
“Functionality is a bonus but it was really about how clothes can reflect your identity.” - Elisa Lim, founder of Will&Well
And that is a powerful outsight.
In my opinion, that is the key to true inclusivity in fashion. Not only making clothes that “work” for those with any kind of physical impediment, but that also enables them to express themselves and their personalities through what they wear, just like everyone else.
By using design-thinking and technology, Will&Well came up with some pretty cool features that make their clothes easier to wear, such as magnetic buttons that snap into place as well as moving the zip to the front of the garments. Now during the pandemic they have also designed a face mask with clear front to help those with hearing impairments or those who use visual cues to understand what a speaker is saying.
It’s thoughtful, considerate, inclusive and, most importantly, they give a true meaning to the “able” part in “fashionable”.
Will&Well also makes custom designs that address specific needs of their clients - their website is filled with success stories that demonstrate just how meaningful and impactful this shift in perspective and approach towards functional fashion can have in person’s life.
Beyond selling their designs, the company also enables people by offering workshops to teach anyone how to re-design and re-fashion existing clothes so they can be more functional to the wearer’s needs, remaining true to the brand’s purpose.
Recently, they also have a really cool on-going campaign called #BeTheDifference, where you can either sponsor a custom design project or nominate someone who could benefit from one - and I highly encourage you to #bethedifference ;)
Will&Well's work is a great example of how an outsider's perspective can not only question the status quo, but also spark a category-defying business idea while making a real difference in people's lives - and I hope this outsight has inspired you as much as it has inspired me! Let me know on the comments below!
If you're interested, here's a couple of related links on this topic - enjoy the rabbit hole!
The New York Time, July 2020 - "Disabled People Love Clothes Too!"
World Economic Forum, Nov 2017 - "These designers have created clothes for people with disabilities – but can it really ‘democratize’ fashion?"
Disclaimer: All images are courtesy of Will&Well and this post is NOT a sponsored post.