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Rachel Shugg on Accessible Fashion

Rachel Shugg, Melbourne-based fashion designer and wheelchair user, is advocating for a more inclusive fashion industry. Faced with the realization that the lack of available clothes to fit her and other disabled bodies wouldn’t allow her to embrace her love for fashion in the same way as others would, Shugg was ready to make a change. She is now working with inclusion-focused Jam the Label, to “push the industry forward to a more inclusive environment.”

Shugg explains, looking back to her own experiences, how stigmatizing fashion can be if it is not inclusive. When a garment that essentially is, as Shugg puts it, a reflection of society, is not made to fit a disabled body, it makes one feel ostracized and negatively impacts self-esteem. Shugg hopes that the designs she makes will allow people with different abilities to feel included, while feeling stylish and comfortable at the same time. Wearing clothes that are adaptable can play a huge difference in the way a disabled person who is constantly adapting to products made for the able-bodied feels about themselves. Designs that are being made with disabled people in mind from the start to the end of their creation destigmatize disabled bodies and significantly improve the lives of disabled people—boosting their self-confidence and quality of life.

Accessible features in fashion

Adaptive designs include features that make the process of putting on and taking off clothing much easier. Magnets on designs are helpful for individuals with different levels of dexterity and allow for quicker undressing for those with limb fatigue. Other features such as bias binds that are placed around the shoulders make clothing more accessible for individuals with missing limbs.

In her designs, Shugg also draws inspiration from her personal experience as a wheelchair user. She uses large pieces of soft cloth that wheelchair users can use to encase their legs to feel more comfortable and balanced. She also uses pleats in her clothes because she finds that it allows for greater flexibility without compromising the garment and takes into account sensory issues such as how certain materials feel on the skin.

The designer is very pleased with the positive response she has received from disabled audiences. She hopes that the exclusionary and alienating fashion industry can be altered by adopting slower design approaches compared to the fast fashion that currently exists and wishes to see more people with disabilities employed in the fashion industry. “We need to start teaching people about marginalized bodies and disabled bodies, and create opportunities to listen and learn from people who have experienced this gap in the market from the lack of empathy and exclusion,” she says.

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