The market for adaptive apparel includes individuals with disabilities; individuals with mobility, sensory or motor processing difficulties; and, those undergoing various medical treatments. According to the World Health Organization’s 2011 World Report on Disability, around 785 million people aged 15 and older globally, or 15.6% of the world’s 15+ population, have a disability.
Based on that figure and Euromonitor International’s estimated global apparel market size, Coresight Research estimates the potential global market for adaptive clothing, accessories and footwear will reach USD 288.7 million in 2019 and grow to USD 349.9 million by 2023.
Our figures represent total estimated apparel spending by consumers with disabilities.
Adaptive apparel encompasses clothing and footwear designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities or health conditions. More brands and retailers are launching adaptive collections but the adaptive clothing and footwear market remains underserved.
Nearly One in Eight Americans Reported they had a Disability in 2017
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, more than 40.7 million Americans, or 12.7% of the U.S. population, reported that they had a disability in 2017. From this, we estimate that the potential adaptive apparel market in the U.S. will reach approximately $47.3 billion in 2019 and grow to $54.8 billion by 2023.
In 2017, of the 40.7 million Americans who reported having a disability, respondents aged 35 to 64 represented the largest group, totaling 15.7 million people. In addition, nearly half of those surveyed over the age of 75 reported having a disability, totaling 9.8 million people.
In its survey, the U.S. Census Bureau defines disability status through six types of questions measuring serious difficulty with hearing, vision, cognition, walking or climbing stairs, and difficulty with self-care and independent living.
Approximately 15.4 million people reported a cognitive disability, 14.3 million people said that they had difficulties with daily living activities such as dressing, and 7.9 million reported difficulty with self care.
Adaptive Clothing needs of those being treated for Chronic Disease
Chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the U.S., according to the CDC. As of 2012, about half of American adults, or 117 million people, had one or more chronic health conditions such as arthritis, cancer or heart disease and one in four adults had two or more chronic health conditions, according to the CDC data. There is ample opportunity to design everyday clothing that fits the needs of individuals receiving treatment for chronic diseases such as cancer.
The CDC reports that more than 54 million Americans have been diagnosed with arthritis, more than one million with Parkinson’s disease and 30000 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). More than 23 million of those diagnosed with arthritis say they have trouble with their usual activities because of arthritis, and it is the most common cause of disability.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer diagnosed every year across the four major cancer types: colon, lung, breast/female and prostate.
The CDC reports that 30.3 million Americans had diabetes in 2015. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, lower-limb amputations other than those caused by injury, and new cases of blindness among adults, according to the CDC. In September 2017, an online survey commissioned by Virta Health found that almost 40 % of the 1000 individuals surveyed who are living with type 2 diabetes said that they felt “moderate or extreme anxiety” about giving themselves daily insulin shots.
Individuals living with these kinds of chronic diseases — including those receiving outpatient treatment for chemotherapy and those who give themselves insulin for diabetes — often have specific clothing needs that traditional fashions do not meet.
Companies and Brands Addressing the Adaptive Apparel Market
Companies are designing and launching adaptive apparel lines and creating private-label brands to improve quality of life for people who have been diagnosed with a disability or chronic disease. Retailers are recognizing the retail opportunity to provide more specialized functional fashion for consumers who experience a wide variety of abilities. For example, some consumers are patients in recovery and are seeking short term fashion solutions; some consumers want sensory relief in fashion options; and some consumers use wheelchairs, and want fashionable and functional clothing options.
Figure 4 provides a timeline of retail innovators in adaptive apparel, many which were covered in our previous deep-dive report. For example, Tommy Hilfiger launched Tommy Adaptive in 2016 focusing on children’s apparel; the company expanded the line to men and women in 2017 to include one-handed zippers, adjustable waistbands, altered seams, and modified easy closures. Today, Tommy Adaptive apparel focuses on all ages.
In 2017, mainstream retailer Target introduced Target Adaptive, an apparel line for men, women, and children focusing primarily on sensory-friendly apparel in sizes ranging from 00-26, with no tags, no seams, and soft fabrics. The same year, Zappos introduced an online marketplace, Zappos Adaptive, for consumers to shop “functional fashionable products to make life easier.” Categories include slip-on shoes, sensory friendly clothing, and post-surgical wear.
In this report, we highlight five companies in the adaptive fashion space not covered in our first deep dive, spanning department store adaptive retail, adaptive footwear technology, fashion-forward functional garments, adaptive high fashion and an online adaptive marketplace featuring new and used apparel.
UK Department Store Marks & Spencer (M&S) launches “ADAPTED FOR EASY DRESSING” Collection aimed at Children with Sensory or Physical Disabilities
Marks & Spencer (M&S) is the first high-street retailer to launch an adaptive clothing line, “Adapted for Easy Dressing,” aimed at children with sensory or physical disabilities in Britain. The company launched the collection in September 2018. To create the collection, M&S surveyed over 300 parents and developed a partnership with customers, which included parents from three specialist schools.
The M&S in-house design team was supported by a pediatrician, who offered expert advice. The adapted clothing line aims to make “easy dressing” and has been produced using soft material, fewer seams and hidden care labels. The collection aims to incorporate fashion without adding unnecessary details.
Specific product innovations include: trousers and shorts with the zippers and buttons replaced by snaps, leggings with flat-lock seams, T-shirts with soft Velcro fastenings at the back of the neck for easy over-the-head dressing, T-shirts and dresses with discreet pockets to accommodate a feeding tube, coats with Velcro down the front and back that are easier to put on for wheelchair users, and smart shirts with soft Velcro behind the buttons.
In a company press release, Rebecca Garner, Kidswear Designer at M&S, said that the company received feedback from parents who passionately told the company that “disabilities don’t define their children, so the adaptations shouldn’t define the clothes.” M&S therefore modelled the products closely on its main collection.
NIKE Technology launches adapt BB self-Lacin shoes enabled with Bluethooth features – Swipe up to tighten, swipe down to loosen
Nike has made strides in the adaptive world with sneakers for the adaptive community. The company created two types of sneakers to help wearers of all ages and abilities get their shoes on and off more easily – the FlyEase and the Adapt BB. Nike’s FlyEase shoes were designed in 2016 at the request of a customer with cerebral palsy who could not tie his own shoes. The FlyEase provides a flexible and secure fit, and the shoes are easy to put on and take off because an adjustable strap is connected to a wraparound zipper.
The HyperAdapt, which Nike launched in 2017 and 2018, adjusts to one’s foot and tightens the laces to fit. Nike launched an “upgrade” to the HyperAdapt in January 2019 with a Bluetooth-enabled, self-lacing basketball shoe, the Adapt BB – its newest adaptive model. Adapt BB sneakers use Bluetooth technology to lace and tighten shoes. The company said the shoes have a “lace engine,” and every component needed to make the shoe smart lives inside that engine: a microcontroller, 505mAh battery, gyroscope, accelerometer, Bluetooth module, motor, lights, pressure sensor, capacitive touch sensor, temperature sensor and wireless charging coil.
How does the shoe work? When a customer puts on the Nike Adapt BB, the shoe (via a custom motor and gear-train) senses the tension that the foot needs and the shoe adjusts. Then, by using manual touch or using the Nike FitAdapt app on a smartphone, customers can input different fit settings – including loosening the shoe or tightening. The benefit of the Adapt BB shoe is that although it is marketed as a shoe for athletes playing in a game (since feet swell during games), it is also suitable for consumers who are unable to tie their own shoes. Consumers can adjust the laces by swiping up to tighten or swiping down to loosen.
HELLO YELLO – an online marketplace for new and used adaptive clothing options
Hello Yello is an online clothing brand located in Brisbane, Australia, founded by Charlotte Corry, whose sister had been suffering from cancer for over 20 years. Corry was unable to find clothing to accommodate her sister during medical treatment – so she decided to create an online marketplace for clothing options and choices for the disabled and people undergoing medical treatments. She said, “Everybody should be able to present themselves to the world with the ease and dignity and style they deserve.” Hello Yello’s clothing caters to consumers who want functional and fashionable clothing options while obtaining medical treatments.
Hello Yello offers new and used clothing for consumers, as it encourages consumers to donate clothing to its website, which could be used by the disabled in need. Through its “Second Chance” online store, its pre-loved inclusive store, it ships used clothing to people with disabilities, medical needs, and different abilities to those in need.
Providing functional and flattering everyday wear for individuals living with medical conditions
Ostomysecrets lifestyle products from ConvaTec are designed for consumers who have had surgical procedures resulting in a colostomy (an opening in the abdominal wall) or ostomy (a prosthetic pouching system). The mission is to help people to look good and to feel confident by minimizing the appearance of an ostomy pouch in the wearer’s clothing and providing apparel and undergarment options that are appealing. The company provides fashionable apparel solution for an ongoing medical condition. From intimate wear to everyday-wear, the company produces functional and flattering undergarments to help men, women and children go about their daily lives, feeling both comfortable and confident. The products range from daily clothing to skin care products and are available on the company’s website as well as on third-party sites such as Amazon.com.
IZ Adaptive – Rundway couture designer Izzy Camilleri launches 55-piece ready-to-wear adaptive clothing line, offering fashion alternatives
In September 2018, designer Izzy Camilleri launched IZ Adaptive, an extended inclusive 55-piece ready-to-wear collection for people with physical disabilities. IZ Adaptive first debuted in 2009 when Izzy Camilleri made the shift from runway couture to accessible fashion for wheelchair users after a quadriplegic client asked for custom clothing to fit her unique needs. Camilleri said that experience inspired her and opened her eyes to the power of design as a way to solve both fit and fashion challenges. According to her: “As a lifelong couture and custom designer, the experience allowed me to see the power of fashion design and its ability to impact lives. I saw it in a whole new light.” IZ Adaptive’s collection includes men’s, women’s and unisex apparel categories, and features tops, bottoms, jackets, coats and underwear, with sizes in the range XS–3XL. The collection aims to make getting dressed easier for everyone, while bringing more independence to people with disabilities. For example, tops include “open backs, closed by simple snaps, to epitomize an ease-of-dress philosophy. A-line cut reduces tightness around the waist and midsection while seated.” The company sells through its own website.
Industry Events and Educational Institutions are building awareness around Adaptive Designs, Fit, and Fashion
“Adaptive design” and “inclusive design” have become much more common terms in the fashion industry in the space of a few years. There has been gradual and growing education in the industry — such as with conference panel discussions featuring adaptive design topics. For example, in 2017 Business of Fashion hosted Sinéad Burke, a three-foot five-inch advocate for little people at its VOICES conference. Burke spoke about the challenges of finding fashionable clothing (and not wearing children’s clothing) and said, “In an attempt to be inclusive, we can actually be exclusive by saying that this section is for plus-size people, and this is adaptive for the disabled market, or this is for the elderly market. Why is not possible to just have a fashion industry that caters to the different spectrum of abilities that exists within society?”
- Alvanon and Coresight Research hosted a conference titled “One Size Does Not Fit All” in June 2018, devoted to inclusive design and the modern consumer. The event focused on how inclusive and adaptive design is revolutionizing the way we think of fashion consumers. Presenters talked about how retailers, designers, manufacturers and startups are working to meet the clothing needs of people with various disabilities and conditions as well as those who wear plus sizes, the challenges of inclusive design, new visions of beauty and fashion, and tools that enable digitalization.
- Educational institutions are building curricula around adaptive fashion, and celebrating designs with runway fashions designed by students. For example, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation has partnered with the Fashion Institute of Technology on a Design for Disabilities competition since 2016. The goal is “to inspire designs that will spur innovation, insight and greater public awareness for the issues that people with disabilities face.” Five students are selected and present their winning looks at the Design for Disability Gala, and their designs are shown on the runway.
- The Open Style Lab (OSL), founded in 2014, is an organization that is dedicated to creating functional, wearable solutions for people of all abilities. The OSL offers 10-week research programs at Parsons School of Design for designers, engineers, and occupational therapists with the goal of creating functional and stylish wearables for people with disabilities. Grace Jun, Executive Director of Open Style Lab, said that the organization works with individuals to make style accessible to everyone. Jun teaches the principles of inclusive design, and each of the research fellows is paired with carefully selected clients who are seeking adaptive solutions.
- Bezgraniz Couture, a cultural center based in Russia, helps to find solutions for people with disabilities, and conducts adaptive research and development. Founded as a private initiative in 2008, the organization has become a leader in skills improvement and employment of disabled professionals. Bezgraniz also conducts various activities for the disabled and organizes international conferences to promote an accessible environment. For example, the company has conducted annual scientific-practical conferences and round tables about how to create clothes for people with disabilities. Since its launch, adaptive clothing has been its main focus, and Bezgraniz couture hosted an international contest for designers of clothes and accessories for people with disabilities. Bezgraniz Couture has also taken steps to raise awareness and educate people to contribute in their own way. The company also offered an education module at the British Higher School of Art and Design in Moscow on designing clothes for people with disabilities. The students’ designs are presented on the runway at Mercedes-Benz fashion week and Los-Angeles fashion week, and have been launched into production.
Looking Forward: Retail Has an Opportunity to better understand the adaptive consumer at a macro level
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 40 million Americans have disabilities. In recent years, a number of start-ups and designers have emerged to focus on the specific adaptive clothing needs of those with various disabilities and conditions. Some major retailers have also begun offering adaptive clothing lines. Meanwhile, some educational institutions have begun offering programs that focus on inclusive design.
However, despite recent strides, there is still little information about the adaptive consumer at a macro level and at a generational level. Specifically, many adaptive designs have grown out of an individual use case, but then blossomed into larger adaptive lines that have gone on to serve a larger population. There is an opportunity to understand the needs and preferences of disabled people and those with chronic illnesses — their shopping preferences, technology usage and the role of devices, how this consumer lives and the role of family and friends in their lives. The industry has an opportunity to authentically engage with consumers to determine what they want, what products will make their lives easier and better, where they purchase products and what makes them happy. As apparel design becomes faster and more specialized, retailers can offer customers more customized solutions based on survey feedback, targeted to consumers’ needs.
The retailers and designers that take the opportunity to best understand the adaptive customer and address the market could generate a positive social and economic impact — and gain first-mover advantage by becoming the “go to” provider of certain adaptive clothing styles. We expect this category to continue to grow as designers and retailers focus more on meeting the apparel needs of all communities by creating inclusive designs that incorporate both function and fashion.
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