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Creating Clothing for Functionality and Style

For most, putting on clothes is one of the many monotonous, five-minute activities done to start the day. But for those with disabilities, mainstream clothing can be a challenge to overcome each morning. Someone with paralysis may not be able to dress independently depending on their needs, while others may simply need help swinging a jacket sleeve across their back from limited mobility. While the simple solution may be to ask for help, the long-term solution for the disabled community would be to create clothing that works with their abilities rather than the person learning to work around the clothing. A team of dedicated individuals provides this solution through Open Style Lab (OSL).

OSL originally started in 2014 as a service project at MIT. Executive director Grace Jun joined the organization in 2015 and moved it to New York the following year. Here, they offer services through a collab course at Parson’s School of Design, including a theme-based Summer Program. For each semester, students from engineering and design disciplines at Parson’s work together in teams to address their their clients’ specific needs, whether that’s making a garment that regulates temperature, has flexible fabric for limited range of motion, or anything else that mainstream clothing doesn’t address. The team then creates the garment through their set of in-house and mainstream tools, such as 3D printers, interactive computer chips, and sewing machines. As everyone goes through the process, clients not only feel more comfortable with expressing their needs but also gain confidence as they help develop a finished garment that’s functional and stylish.

The Summer Program has fellows from different occupations work with their clients to create garments rather than merely consult with them as they do during the school year. Instead, OSL assembles a team of designers, engineers and Physical and Orthopedic therapists to design clothing for clients that match a chosen theme, such as this year’s Aging, Mobility and Care. Once clients are selected, each team works on clothing solutions with design experts, learns about different types of assistive technology and fashion design, and develops a business plan that enables them to bring their designs to the public. Each team also receives a stipend for their client’s project. They then present their final garments at a show in August and talk about their unique features for the disabled user if they choose to participate.

But OSL does more than create clothing. They also raise awareness about adaptive clothing for the fashion industry through trade shows, the press, and events, such as OSL’s discussion panel at Yabu Pushelberg Studios. During the panel, Grace Jun and four other professionals discussed their experiences working with marginalized communities and strategies to make businesses more inclusive. For OSL specifically, this means not only researching changing trends in adaptive clothing but learning to work with each of their clients’ abilities and situations while creating clothing. As passionate as team members are to work with disabled individuals, many have their first experience interacting with them day-by-day through the program and are amazed at how their perceptions change. As Kieran Kern said in our interview, “they realize [the disabled individual] isn’t just a set of symptoms. They’re a person. They have wants, needs, goals, [and] desires” like any human being. Thus, the team is transformed as they work with the client, and the client feels exhilarated from being themselves since their limitations aren’t seen as a problem but as something to work with—including the thrill of designing a garment that reflects their personality.

With “style” in their name, Open Style Lab takes style very seriously as they design clothing with clients to ensure they’re representing themselves. To learn more, visit their website, follow them on social media, or email them at

Photos courtesy of Open Style Lab

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