How My Grandmother’s Parkinson’s Disease Inspired Me To Create Inclusive Clothing For Adults
Meet The Founder: The Accessible Clothing Company Making Daily Life Easier
If you find getting dressed easy, then you may never have thought about accessible and inclusive clothing. Yet the simple daily task of putting on clothes can be difficult for many including the elderly, wheelchair users, people post-surgery and living with disabilities. And that’s where adaptive and inclusive clothing can help by removing a lot of the stress, frustration and difficulty from this process.
Katie Ellis saw this first-hand when her grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Inspired to do something about it, she used her background in fashion and experience as a carer for her other nan who had Alzehimer’s disease to create The Able Label inclusive clothing company.
How amazing is that?! She was so driven by her family experience that she created a clothing brand!
And The Able Label doesn’t just make any clothes. Yes, they’re well-made and stylish. But their USP is the discreet adaptive designs, innovative fastenings and hidden extras that make dressing easier. Meaning that restricted movement, balance problems or lack of finger dexterity is not a barrier to getting dressed.
“The Able Label clothes gave her back her dignity and put a big smile on her face.“A customer who purchased clothing from The Able Label for his wife.
We sat down with Katie to find out some more about her female-founded inclusive clothing company that is helping older people stay independent and stylish at the same time.
Q: What inspired you to start The Able Label?
A: When my grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I realized that dressing was becoming increasingly difficult for her. So, I began searching for solutions, and found there was nothing that fit the bill. There were no stylish clothes that were designed to be put on and taken off easily and help her keep her dignity.
At the same time, my mum was the sole carer for my nan with Alzheimer’s disease. She had an accident and needed an operation on her foot however this meant not being able to drive for at least six weeks.
At the time, I was a buyer for White Stuff and doing well working my way up the career ladder. We discussed options with my nan including whether she’d like domiciliary home care, or respite care. She was very unhappy at the sounds of any of these options though.
Having always been a very close family, I was adamant mum was going to have the operation she needed and also wanted to ensure my nan was looked after, so decided to leave my job and become her carer.
From spending time and speaking with my nan as well as my grandmother with Parkinson’s disease, I could clearly see their frustration struggling more and more with daily tasks. Dressing was particularly challenging for them both.
This then highlighted to me the need for adaptive clothing, to avoid difficult fiddly fastenings and garment designs without losing the aesthetics. Upon further research, I found that the adaptive clothing market was in fact very limited and lacked product which combined both style and independence.
The Able Label was born to bridge the gap between fashion and function, encouraging independence and in turn, growing self confidence.
Q: Who is The Able Label for?
A: The Able Label range has been designed to help with a variety of physical and cognitive needs and also aims to encourage self-confidence and independence. The quality fabrics, discreet adaptive designs, innovative fastenings and hidden extras make dressing easier for those who may suffer from restricted movement or lack of finger dexterity.
The design of the inclusive garments has also taken carers’ requirements into account, so that assisted dressing is quicker, easier and safer. Yet when they’re being worn, no one would know they were adapted.
We have been able to secure VAT relief for anyone with ‘a long term disability or chronic illness’ which can make a big difference.
Q: What are your most popular products (for men and women)?
A: We have found our range of easy to wear Bras and Nightwear have both been consistently popular. Although we find that product popularity varies depending on customer needs. For example, our fully opening wrap skirts are particularly popular and helpful for someone with Parkinson’s disease, who may experience reduced movement and balance.
Whereas wheelchair users are attracted to our jersey wrap maxi skirts, which provide extra coverage and a comfortable elasticated waistband.
Our velcro fastening adapted items, such as the velcro touch-close shirts for both men and women, will benefit those with limited finger dexterity including those with arthritis.
Q: Has feedback from your customers helped you to create your inclusive clothing products? How else do you come up with new innovation?
A: Our customers are at the centre of everything we do. Right from the start, we carried out many focus groups as they were the most effective way to listen and understand what our prospective customers were looking for in clothing. This was how we developed the initial range of products. Since then, as a small brand we have been able to stay in close contact with all of our new and existing customers through customer service and our social platforms.
Q: The adaptive clothing market is booming. What’s next for The Able Label?
A: Having introduced our menswear range as a trial last year, we have received a really positive reaction and are therefore encouraged to further grow the range of stylish adapted clothing for men. We are also excited to continue building our relationships with wonderful charities, including The Alzheimer’s Society which in turn can help spread brand awareness.
Q: Have you noticed any changes in spending habits with the recent lockdown?
A: As a whole, we have found that our customers are placing larger orders to achieve a variety of outfits which can be mixed and matched, to make daily dressing easier. This has been especially important to those who may usually rely on the help of carers to get dressed but have not had access to help during lockdown. Aware of this struggle, we have recently introduced bundle offers on a few of our core items to help create easy to dress wardrobes, for greater independence.
Another change in buying habits we have noticed, is that more family and friends are buying gifts for loved ones who they perhaps are unable to visit. Our gift-wrapping service has proved popular to those wanting to send a personalised message along with their order.
Q: There must be a huge market for The Able Label in care homes. Have you seen an increase in people buying for their families there or carers recommending them?
A: A high percentage of our customers buy for and on behalf of family, including those within care homes.
During lockdown this has increased, as we have noticed that increasingly customers are sending larger packages of adaptive clothing to make dressing easier for loved ones or to help their carers with the process of getting people dressed throughout this difficult period. Many of these are opting for our gift wrapping service to make the items perfect thoughtful and life changing gifts.
We do also receive frequent enquiries from carers looking for catalogues and also purchasing product on behalf of their patients. It is clear that our adaptive features can greatly improve the process of both self and assisted dressing. For any caregivers or healthcare professionals, we are able to send more catalogues should they wish to hand them out.
Q: You said that it’s your customer feedback and focus groups that have been key at learning what people want. How has your background in fashion helped too?
A: My background in fashion, working at a high street retailer has certainly helped in several ways.
I have been able to utilise my buying skills, as well as the knowledge taken from working alongside many other departments.
Connections and relationships, made within the fashion industry, have also proven extremely valuable. They have provided great support and guidance throughout the development of my inclusive clothing business and continue to do so today.
For example, I have been able to utilise the supply base having already built close partnerships with many factories that I used to and currently now work with. This has also proved especially helpful when our designs are not as straight forward as what you’d find on the high street. Using a premium type of velcro, spacing it exactly the right distance apart for optimum coverage/ease as well as the cut of the clothes all have to be carefully explained to the factory. This takes extra time in planning, sampling and manufacturing in order to get it right. Many factories would not support with this but I have been able to utilise the relationships already established in order to achieve the best product, exactly as we want it.
We also work closely with some of the designers and garment technologist in the industry who I remain in contact with the ensure the highest standards.
Lastly, the former CEO of White Stuff is a brand ambassador of The Able Label and personally mentors myself in order to help grow the business. She has lupus so can relate to the difficulties our customers face as well as being a retail guru.