Emma Clegg and Molly Rogers realised the glaring lack of easy to wear clothing for people with disabilities as students of occupational therapy while caring for two teenagers with cerebral palsy who use a wheelchair. Both girls required the help of others to dress. Emma and Molly looked high and low at local fashion stores in Melbourne and found nothing that was cool and functional for youngsters with disabilities. This motivated them to make the leap from disability support workers to entrepreneurs with the launch of JAM the Label, a clothing brand that brings together the functional and stylish elements.
The leap was not easy.
“We certainly felt out of depth in the fashion side of things in the beginning, as it was all totally new to us”, says Emma. “We connected with a company called A Fitting Connection which helps to connect fashion start-ups with pattern makers, manufacturers etc.” They realised that while adaptive clothing was not new, there was nothing in the current market for teenagers and young adults.
Initially they decided to target eight to 18-year-olds. This was later tweaked to people between 15-35 years of age after they found that this age group was being totally missed. “We began by creating a wheelchair friendly jacket, which is an adaptive item”, adds Emma. “This was born from our ever-changing weather in Melbourne. However, due to its design feature of having a shorter back – it is not appropriate for people who aren’t wheelchair users”
JAM calls itself an inclusive brand and its range encompassed the principles of universal design. The pants, for instance, feature a drop crotch. “Whilst seated, the drop crotch allows for extra room for the pants to be pulled up so they’re not dropping down the back, and whilst standing, they are able to be worn as a drop crotch style pant”, explains Emma. Then there are tote bags with one long strap that be worn across the body and have two extra shorter press stud straps that can be hung off wheelchair handles or pram handles.
The input of lived experiences has gone into these designs and the founders have a suggestions page on the website for comments and feedback. “These suggestions directly influenced the design of our newest items”, says Emma.
Going ahead, the founders hope to hire designers with disability on their team. At a recent photoshoot they brought on Jason Clymo, the well-known wheelchair using model as creative director to help control the narrative of those with disability on the set.
Emma and Molly are clear that JAM is not an adaptive label but an inclusive one. They hope to prevent this segregation by showing how simple it is to make the adjustments that will help promote a more inclusive world.
“We think that it’s easy for people to pop accessible features or inclusive items in the “too hard” basket”, says Emma. “Additionally, we find that people are still intimidated by the idea of inclusive fashion and potentially even feel that they’re not the right person to do it”.
The solution to this, they are convinced, lies in exposure. “The more people see people with disability represented, the more people with disability will be included in people’s planning and their thoughts when creating items. We hope that we, along with other inclusive brands, can lead by example to show that fashion can be functional but look really good too”.