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How Adaptive Fashion Is Helping These 3 Disabled Women Stand Out On Their Own Terms

Fashion has always been a powerful tool for creativity and identity exploration. Historically, many people with disabilities have been excluded from this vehicle for expression, but the tide is finally starting to change with adaptive fashion. The term is used to describe “functional clothing and accessories that prioritise ease of dressing”. It includes features such as fits for prosthetics or specific “seated-wear” designs for wheelchair users, meaning that it’s more accessible for people with disabilities. 
Mainstream brands such as Tommy Hilfiger are embracing inclusive design by producing clothing that’s both stylish and made for dressing with ease and comfort. Considering that around 4.4 million Australians currently live with some form of disability, it’s a step in the right direction. 
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To explore just how impactful adaptive fashion is for those living with a disability, here’s how three disabled women have found and embraced their personal style. 
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Hannah Divney - Writer, Disability Advocate

Lexi Laphor
Refinery29 Australia: How would you describe your personal style?
Hannah Divney: My personal style is pretty casual, and prioritises comfort with a few funky statement pieces in my wardrobe for good measure.
Refinery29 Australia: How has fashion empowered you to unlock your identity over time? 
Hannah: To be honest, my relationship with fashion has been really hit and miss. Growing up, I had very little interest in clothes and style, because fashion very much felt like a world that was locked to a body like mine. I didn’t feel seen or that clothes were for me, because I didn’t look like anyone ‘was supposed to’. Clothes look very different on someone who’s standing up with a straight body and toned muscles than they do on someone who’s sitting down, with a twisted spine and muscles wildly all over the place.
Refinery29 Australia: What does adaptive fashion mean to you?
Hannah: Adaptive fashion means clothes that give me control and confidence. It means experiences that are comfortable, dignified and thrilling in their potential independence.
Refinery29 Australia: Can you describe what your experience with adaptive fashion has been?
Hannah: Growing up, adaptive fashion was not something labels were invested in making, even though there would’ve always been interest and demand for it, so this campaign is actually my first real experience with it. And I’m so ecstatic that a company as well-known and beloved as Tommy Hilfiger has been progressive enough to take that step and really cement itself as a leading ally in the fashion space. We need more labels to follow their lead, please!
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Refinery29 Australia: What’s something you do every day as an act of self-care?
Hannah: Since my work as a writer and disability advocate means I spend a lot of time in front of a screen, it’s really important for me to take time away from that by reading physical books as much as I can. It also serves as a really important window of escape for my brain from the chaotic fast-paced rhythms of juggling work and uni, as well as living with a pretty significant anxiety disorder. Disappearing into the worlds of other people is always a great reset button and leaves me feeling energised and fired up creatively.
Refinery29 Australia: How do you motivate and empower your audience?
Hannah: This is a really interesting question! For me, it’s all about keeping it real. Obviously, I’m not going to share every detail of my life, but I want to be open about the ups and downs of living with disability and mental illness because I never had anyone to look to as an example of what my life might look like or involve. But it’s not just that, it’s being real around expressing excitement, enjoyment, not thinking I’m too cool and being unafraid to share when I’m a fan of something because I think one of the most harmful things our society does is teach us all to be quiet and ashamed, to have ‘guilty pleasures’ instead of feeling comfortable to be ourselves loudly and unapologetically.
Refinery29 Australia: How has writing helped you find your voice and spread your message?
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Hannah: Writing has been my main way of expressing myself since I was four years old and first falling in love with stories. Words are the only way I know how to make sense of the world, and they have always been my strength, my way of helping people to understand what my life looks like and what the world I’m working to build looks like too. Without writing, I don’t know who I would be. It’s always so rewarding to spin words that mean something out of nothing, you feel like Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold.
Refinery29 Australia: What's the best/most challenging thing about running the blog Missing Perspectives?
Hannah: The best thing about running Missing Perspectives, is undoubtedly the fact that we get to build seats at the table where all sorts of voices who have never been given the time of day finally get the chance to be heard. We are welcoming girls and women who are strong, passionate, powerful leaders to share with the world about their lives in an unfiltered and really powerful way that holds their lived experiences in the highest regard. It’s really special to be pioneers of that; especially when so much of mainstream media is still learning the power of diversity. As a result, we get to fill this huge gap worldwide and really step into this moment in 2021. People are hungry for representation and are now more than ever committed to rebuilding institutions and power structures until they mirror what we look like and what the world has always deserved.
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Ali Kitinas - Actress, Model

Lexi Laphor
Refinery29 Australia: How would you describe your personal style?
Ali Kitinas: In my personal style I take inspiration from a lot of different references. I don’t like to feel restrained by a particular ‘aesthetic’ because fashion for me is all about exploring and having fun. I love going from super chic elevated basics to something bright and colourful depending on the mood I am in that day. I also love mixing vintage pieces with my contemporary wardrobe and taking inspiration from different eras.
Refinery29 Australia: How has fashion empowered you to unlock your identity over time? 
Ali: Fashion has always been a big part of who I am and how I express myself, ever since I was a little girl. I love that there are no boundaries and that I can express however I am feeling on a particular day through my clothes. As I’ve gotten older, and become a young woman, I have been empowered by the realisation that we do not have to dress for anyone other than ourselves. That what we wear is a representation of who we are, and who we want to be, and should not be constrained to how we think others should see us. There are few things I enjoy more than picking out an outfit in the morning, and the confidence that comes from wearing something that feels truly me.
Refinery29 Australia: What does adaptive fashion mean to you?
Ali: To me, adaptive fashion means accessibility. It means that everyone has the ability to express themselves the way they choose, and I love that this is becoming more and more possible every day.
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Refinery29 Australia: Can you describe what your experience with adaptive fashion has been?
Ali: ​​I am very fortunate that the autoimmune condition that I live with does not entirely interfere with how I dress and am grateful as I know others are not in the same position. However, I spent 2-3 of my teenage years in and out of hospital emergency rooms and specialists’ offices as we struggled to find a clear diagnosis for what I was experiencing. And the challenges that came with dressing/undressing for constant ultrasounds, CT scans, ECGs and other examinations were not lost on me, especially as a young girl. It brings me so much joy to see adaptive fashion becoming more mainstream because while I have faced my challenges, I know that there are many who face significantly bigger hurdles than I have, and every single person should know how it feels to wear an outfit that not only is practical and accessible but makes them feel like they are expressing their true selves.
Refinery29 Australia: What’s something you do every day as an act of self-care?
Ali: ​​My morning routine is a really important self-care ritual that I try to maintain every day. Those moments when I am doing my skincare and getting ready while listening to music are almost like a form of meditation to me and help put me in a positive frame of mind for the day.
Refinery29 Australia: How do you motivate and empower your audience?
Ali: I am incredibly passionate about using my platform to make a difference. I strive to be as genuine and authentic with my audience as possible, so they feel that I am someone they can relate to. I want them to know that despite the challenges I have faced in my life, I have still gotten to where I am today, and they can too by believing in themselves. I try to be real about not only the good moments, but the bad because I think there is nothing more empowering than knowing you are not alone in your experiences, but you have so much potential to grow and chase your dreams no matter what hurdles may be present on your journey.
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Refinery29 Australia: Has your audience taught you anything about self-love and acceptance? 
Ali: I am constantly inspired by the community I have built through what I do. I think the beautiful thing about the world we live in is that we can connect with people that we never thought we would, and we all can teach each other so much. My audience has supported and believed in me, even in moments where I haven’t believed in myself, and likewise, I believe in them. They have taught me that at times we can be our own worst critics, and it’s important to step back and look at our lives from an outside perspective to see just how far we have come.
Refinery29 Australia: What are the biggest challenges you face juggling your multiple business ventures and taking care of yourself? 
Ali: I am the kind of person who will give 110% energy at all times, and often the first thing to deteriorate is my health. It’s really common in passionate and driven people — we want to be there for everyone else but often forget to show up for ourselves and for our own mental and physical wellbeing. My autoimmune disease is often made worse by stress and is a not so pleasant reminder that I need to take a step back and that it is okay to prioritise looking after yourself as well.
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Madison De Rozario - Paralympic athlete

Lexi Laphor
Refinery29 Australia: How would you describe your personal style? 
Madison: Really minimalistic, really comfortable. I spend most of my day in workout clothes, and even when I’m not training it’s definitely my go-to. 
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Refinery29 Australia: How has fashion empowered you to unlock your identity over time? 
Madison: Identity is central to everything we do - every decision we make. I think fashion is one of the easiest and also most creative ways to really embrace that on our own terms.
Refinery29 Australia: What’s something you do every day as an act of self-care?
Madison: Create intentional downtime in my day. It’s nearly impossible when we all live such chaotic and busy lives. I have a really high-energy dog who I need to take out for at least an hour each day, and I use that hour to call home.
Refinery29 Australia: What were the three most exhilarating moments you experienced at the Paralympics?
Madison: I can’t go past the marathon and the 800m race. There was a moment after the track component of my program was done but before the marathon when the impact the Games were having back home in Australia really hit me.  
There is so much kindness in this team (which is less of a moment and more of a thing that occurred over the duration). Not necessarily in direct ways but it’s unwavering and to get to call these people my team is such a privilege. 
Refinery29 Australia: How has sport empowered you and others throughout your life?
Madison: Sport has helped me shape my entire identity - to work out who I am and who I want to be. I believe sport in the space of disability is integral if and how you are able. One of the first things that comes with having a disability is a loss of autonomy - a lot of that is in autonomy of voice, but a huge part is in our own physical selves. Both physically as well as how we are conditioned to feel about our own bodies. Sport is a way of regaining that control and pride over yourself that is often lost through the way we as a society view and treat disability. 

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