Why Some Of The Country's Best & Brightest Spent The Summer Designing Clothes

Stylish adaptive design, which caters to the unique, practical needs of differently-abled individuals, has been advanced in the last few years by labels like IZ Collection, Care and Wear, and MagnaReady. The niche but important area of design is getting more mainstream exposure lately, thanks to household names like Tommy Hilfiger creating in tandem with Runway of Dreams, a company that makes adaptive versions of mainstream brands' clothing. The next great adaptive fashion innovations just might emerge from Open Style Lab, an annual 10-week summer program at MIT which is part of the school's International Design Center.

The program, which just wrapped its third year earlier in August, invited 13 "fellows" — a mix of engineers, designers, and occupational therapists, including undergrad students, grad students, and working professionals — to create wearable solutions for, and with, individuals with disabilities. The fellows were grouped into four teams, and each team conceived a garment specifically for (and with input from) a specific "client," addressing the challenges he or she faces. The teams were named after the four clients, Jim, Michael, Eliza, and Justin, and guest judges included pros from Parsons, Chromat, and Google.
Photo: Courtesy of Open Style Lab.

"Adaptive clothing is nothing new. From the first Apollo suit to sportswear design for athletes in Rio Olympics, the emphasis on human enhancement has been recorded in fashion history, technology, and culture," Grace Jun, Open Style Lab's executive director and part-time lecturer at Parsons, told Refinery29. "With a range of wearable solutions from high-tech materials used in adaptive wear to wearable tech produced at Open Style Lab, we emphasize purposeful aesthetics and considerate uses of technology when designing for the inclusion of people with disabilities."

The winning team secured a cash prize to use toward further development or production of its designs for 11-year-old Eliza, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder and OCD, and habitually rips her clothing (a garment in her closet lasts one day to one month). Her team created EASE, a rip-resistant yet comfortable series of tees with raw bonded hems, a longer length, and no side seams, imprinted with Eliza's own artwork.
Team Justin came in second place, with a zip-back multi-season jacket created for 16-year-old Justin, who has had Congenital Muscular Dystrophy since he was six months old. The jacket needed to cover his back fully, have a hood fitted close to the ears (without blocking his vision), while not bunching at the waist, sleeves, or collar.

"Function and style can coexist in adaptive clothing and the future for such research is seen at Open Style Lab," Jun explained of the program's objective. This fall, the 2016 crop of Open Style Lab fellows and clients will present about their innovative work with adaptive design at Boston's Museum of Science on October 1. Check out the video below for a sneak peek of what's in store at the presentation.

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