The way that technology is changing the landscape of the world today is something we see all the time. The way technology is restyling how and whom we dress is just around the corner. The Classy Little Fashions Foundation is an innovator for the uses of fashion technology. Their mission is to dress adults with non-standard body types due to physical disabilities with age-appropriate clothing, but the implications for what the foundation is doing go beyond trendsetting.
Imagine you’ve just turned 40 years old and never owned a winter coat. As residents of northeast Ohio, this seems unfathomable. But for Jane Hash, one of three co-directors of the Classy Little Fashions Foundation, this is her story. Born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a connective tissue disorder that impedes the production of collagen causing brittle bones and malformations in bone structure, the act of putting on a thick, stiff winter coat puts her in danger of breaking her arms. Besides the physical risks of getting dressed, she has struggled to find apparel appropriate for a working professional that fits someone of her stature. As an educator for health and body image, in the past she has fastened together her clothing with duct tape and safety pins in some creative ways to tailor them to her size.
After several Facebook rants about wanting nothing more than clothes that fit, Carol E. Briney, another of the co-directors for CLFF, saw these posts and felt that they were written for her to read. Compelled by her background in nonprofits and a girlhood love of sewing, she reached out to Hash. Briney began making tailored garments for Hash, starting with bolero jackets, tops and jeans. Both immediately saw an opportunity for filling a new desperately needed market niche. Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) affects an estimated 50,000 people in the US, and as many as 500,000 people worldwide, and yet organizations like CLFF are unheard of. Along with Hash’s lifelong friend Jess Wallace, who also has OI, Classy Little Fashions Foundation was born.
The biggest challenge of dressing their Classy Clients is the variety of body types they encounter. OI varies greatly in severity and the ways it affects bone development, and not all future clients may have this disorder. Each client must have specific measurements taken for their unique body type. On top of that, gathering the measurements needed to make tailored garments is not a simple process, since brittle bones and the amount of handling required can be uncomfortable and even scary. Many clients cannot wear certain fabrics, usually synthetics, since it can irritate their skin when sitting in a wheelchair for long periods of time.
In search of a method of streamlining their design and production process, the directors of CLFF connected with J.R. Campbell, Director of Kent State’s School of Fashion Design and Merchandising, and Dr. Stephen Schoonmaker, President of College of the Ouachitas.
Campbell, Schoonmaker, and CLFF collaborated to scan Hash, Wallace, and another Classy Client with both Kent State’s stand-up, photo booth-style body scanner and handheld scanners from College of the Ouachitas. Using data from both scanners, CLFF and both schools will evaluate the data collected to see how the methods differ in accuracy.
The vision for CLFF’s research efforts is to one day be able to team up with universities and Classy Teams across the country where clients can have their measurements taken with a handheld scanner. The data will then be sent to 3D printers at the College of the Ouchitas or elsewhere and a “micro-me” of the client will be printed and used to design and produce clothing for the Classy Client, with absolutely no risk to them.
What Classy Little Fashions has found is that their designs give their clients more than just functional clothing. Clients are given a whole new set of reasons to be confident. Hash realized soon after she started wearing her new classy fashions a sort of social experiment that she was thrown into. Briney says that during a phone call with Hash after she had been out in Classy Fashions, Hash had spent the whole day talking about her new attire, and nobody said anything about her disability.
Recently, Hash was able to speak to the Girl Scouts of America about body image in her new wardrobe. “That was intimidating,” she says, “but it went great, and I know that it would not have been so successful if I was wearing the same thing they had on. But because I could dress age appropriately, they treated me with respect.”
As Briney says, it’s “bigger than wearing clothes.”