Writer and podcaster Ardra Shephard wasn’t born disabled. She started using mobility aids in her thirties: first a cane, then a rollator, sometimes a wheelchair. Shephard searched for disabled style icons for a little fashion inspiration that would accommodate her mobility needs — but couldn’t find any. “I was frustrated and angry, actually, to discover that disabled people were being erased from the world of fashion and beauty,” she says.
Complicating this issue, change rooms are often not accessible, and shopping trips need to be planned around which subway stops have an elevator. The GTA is home to a few long-running adaptive fashion businesses, but many of their offerings skew more utilitarian than fashion-forward. While still uncommon, a few local designers have started adaptive fashion lines to create more inclusive — and chic — clothing for everyone, and that’s worth celebrating in our often-ableist society. “Adaptive fashion in Canada has come a long way,” Shephard says. “It’s exciting to see brand innovation, and that, year over year, we seem to be getting better about including disabled people in ad campaigns and in the media in general.”
The reigning queen of the adaptive fashion scene is Izzy Camilleri, who is known worldwide for her Iz Inc. and IZ Adaptive labels. She got her start designing adaptive clothing in 2005, when she created pieces for Toronto Star reporter Barbara Turnbull, who was paralyzed from her neck down and used a wheelchair. Four years later, she launched IZ Adaptive to concentrate on producing pieces such as jackets that split into two halves for easier dressing.
“As a long-time fashion designer, I feel my talents are being better served creating clothing for people who have very limited choices,” Camilleri says. In the decade and a half since she launched her line, her work has been featured in the ROM as a noteworthy Canadian invention, and in 2022 she won both the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (CAFA) Fashion Impact Award and the Women’s Empowerment Innovation Awards Awards.
All of Camilleri’s patterns are drafted for a seated frame instead of a standing frame, and she’s pioneered concepts including clothing that looks the same while seated, and a new type of pant that eliminates the center-back seam, which often causes pressure sores for folks who sit for long periods of the day. “Fashion is an area that for a long time was not understanding that there was a problem to solve,” Camilleri says. “Adaptive clothing provides inclusion, a sense of self, dignity and so much more to the individual that would need it.”
It’s also an area of opportunity. Adaptive fashion is starting to explode, with the international market predicted to grow by 15.24 per cent annually and reach $5.67 billion USD by 2028, according to a 2022 Stratview Research report. “Adaptive fashion is in its infancy so there’s so much room for all products, from clothing and footwear to undergarments and accessories,” Camilleri says. “Advancing in these areas is possible, but it’s not easy. We