In Japan, people with disabilities call for more fashion brands to create stylish, practical clothing

·5-min read
The True Colours Fashion festival is spotlighting the role of tech in creating adaptive wear for people with disabilities. — Picture courtesy of True Colours Fashion
The True Colours Fashion festival is spotlighting the role of tech in creating adaptive wear for people with disabilities. — Picture courtesy of True Colours Fashion

KUALA LUMPUR, June 18 — Getting dressed in the morning is second nature for many of us.

But for 15 per cent of the world’s population who experience some form of disability, the routine of putting on clothes, especially those with significant disabilities can be challenging.

When Masatane Muto was diagnosed with ALS in 2013 at the age of 26, he lost the freedom of movement and wasn’t able to wear his favourite clothes.

He lost the ability to button shirts and outerwear with his hands and couldn’t wear denim and other non-stretchy clothes as time went by.

“Now, there is not a single piece of clothing that I can wear by myself,” he told Malay Mail in an email interview.

“It was really sad to see my clothing options dwindling rapidly.”

Muto lost the ability to button shirts when he was diagnosed with ALS in 2013. — Picture courtesy of True Colours Fashion
Muto lost the ability to button shirts when he was diagnosed with ALS in 2013. — Picture courtesy of True Colours Fashion

The Japanese deejay is known for playing music with his eyes and is now working with artists and technologists to develop content using eye movement input.

His experience led him to launch 01, a brand of universal fashion that anyone can wear without compromising on style.

Just last week, he participated in a runway show as a creator and model at the True Colours Fashion: The Future is Now! festival in Tokyo.

This year, the performing arts festival is spotlighting tech wearables and adaptive fashion or disability-friendly clothes through collaborations between fashion and tech brands.

Muto is one of many models with disabilities that appeared on the runway at the festival.

As the fashion world responds to criticism such as lacking inclusivity and promoting static beauty ideals, stylish adaptive fashion is an area that is crying out for attention.

People like Muto feels his needs have been ignored by the industry and hopes there will be more clothing options to cater to people with disabilities.

“I am especially looking forward to the techwear genre in the future,” he said.

“For example, there is a jacket with a built-in heater that I use.

“You can easily adjust the warmth using a smartphone app, which is very convenient for people with conditions that make it difficult to regulate their body temperature.”

The gaping hole in the market is reflective of the very few brands that create adaptive fashion, which Muto said comes down to economies of scale where volume is hard to anticipate that in turn drives production costs up.

But US designers like Tommy Hilfiger are taking steps to rectify the situation by launching his Adaptive line and becoming the first major fashion label to launch a full-fledged adaptive fashion line.

Japan’s first amputee model Gimico (far left) appears in the Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive campaign. — Picture courtesy of True Colours Fashion
Japan’s first amputee model Gimico (far left) appears in the Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive campaign. — Picture courtesy of True Colours Fashion

The Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive show at The Future is Now! featured Japan’s first amputee model Gimico, who lost her right leg in the eighth grade due to osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.

The model who also took part in the 2016 Rio Paralympics flag handover ceremony said her footwear choices are limited due to the structure of her prosthesis.

Scientist, media artist and The Future is Now! general director Yoichi Ochiai wants to give people the freedom of physicality with technology.

He started thinking about clothing and the body after heading a project on disability, AI and technology.

Ochiai said technology will make adaptive fashion possible by helping reduce marginal costs.

He also believed that adaptive fashion would add another dimension of diversity in the industry.

“I believe that the key to the future of fashion is how far we can interpret non-uniform beauty in a pluralistic way, and how we can mature it by including technology,” he said.

Dancer GenGen, who is hard of hearing, said more needs to be done so people with disabilities can enjoy fashion. — Picture courtesy of True Colours Fashion
Dancer GenGen, who is hard of hearing, said more needs to be done so people with disabilities can enjoy fashion. — Picture courtesy of True Colours Fashion

Born with sensorineural hearing loss, dancer GenGen was chosen to model designs by Live Jacket and Kansai Yamamoto, the legendary fashion house that has dressed the likes of David Bowie and Elton John.

“For the hearing impaired, the most difficult part of choosing clothes is when they need to talk in stores,” said GenGen, who would like to see hearing aids with reduced feedback.

GenGen said there were many issues that need addressing to create an environment where people with disabilities can enjoy fashion.

He believed it has taken this long for adaptive fashion to be trendy because there are few people with disabilities in the fashion industry, hairdressing industry, and customer service industry.

In short, there needs to be more representation.

“Many cast members in dramas are not disabled people either.

“People with disabilities have a habit of being turned away from things that normal people would like to do,” he said.

Natsuko Kurasawa who appeared at the Hatra show lost her right arm in 2011 to osteosarcoma — she finds zippers, fastening Velcro, inserting buckles and tying laces a chore.

She wants to see more options that make dressing and undressing more convenient.

“(It would be nice) if sleeve lengths can be changed where each side can be adjusted to the required length,” said Kurasawa who is chairman of Mission Arm, a non-profit that organises social events for people with upper limb disabilities.

After losing her right arm to osteosarcoma, Kurasawa wants to see clothes that have adjustable sleeves. — Picture courtesy of True Colours Fashion
After losing her right arm to osteosarcoma, Kurasawa wants to see clothes that have adjustable sleeves. — Picture courtesy of True Colours Fashion

She also spoke about the Japanese culture of hiding disabilities that puts the fashion needs of people with disabilities on the backburner.

“It must take a lot of courage to talk about it.

“I didn’t live with a disability for 45 years, so I think there was a distance between us as well,” she said, adding that there is little information for people with disabilities to live comfortably.

But she believed the post-war values of the Showa era are fading away and more people are speaking up about their disabilities.

“The world has become a place where more people are voicing their desire to live their lives in a way that is true to them, and that people who want to make this happen are willing to accompany them and find value in it,” said Kurasawa.

“We have the courage to tell people about our own disabilities, so that we can reduce our anxiety about living with a disability due to illness or accident.”

Find out more about The Future is Now! on YouTube.

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