Clothing For All: Adapting Fashion For People With Disabilities
Startup certifies big-brand garments as inclusive for those who have difficulty dressing
Most of us button a shirt or tie our shoelaces without a second thought, but it can be a daily challenge for the billion people globally who live with disabilities.
A startup in Tel Aviv is addressing that challenge by encouraging fashion brands to make their clothes more accessible – using magnetic buttons, velcro closures, and clasps to make fastening possible when sitting, standing or lying down.
Palta operates the world’s first certification program for garments and products deemed inclusive for people who have difficulty dressing because they are autistic, have cerebral palsy, arthritis, or other motor impairments. Its certification analyzes data and user feedback, and uses 3D modeling to improve the inclusivity of brands’ clothing.
“Palta is leveraging data to democratize the fashion world and apply the next generation of shopping and dressing for the largest minority in the world,” says Shay Senior, CEO and Co-founder of Palta.
“We offer companies an entire package to become more inclusive, from the shopping experience to the dressing of the individual.”
Many garments can be readily adapted so they’re equally suitable for people with and without disabilities. Examples include one-piece outfits, clothes with easy access points for medical equipment such as a feeding tube, pants that cut higher in the back and lower in the front so they are more comfortable for wheelchair users, and shoes that allow the wearer to step into them without force.
Palta’s own inclusive design includes Braille tags, 3D printed Braille catalogues, digital (QR codes) labels that connect to a chatbot service, smart fabrics, and multifunctional clothes.
Senior founded Palta after he injured his right arm during his military service in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and underwent a long rehabilitation process. He suffered pain from many daily activities, such as grasping objects and shaking hands.
“I noticed that the conversation around me changed depending on the brand of clothes that I chose to wear that day. I realized how much influence clothes have on who we are and what we represent,”
“It made me so interested in this topic, and made me realize that people with disabilities aren’t really included and do not have a space within the fashion world.”
Palta’s first major win was designing the official uniform for Israeli athletes in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. It used its methodology, which involves data analysis, user feedback, and 3D modeling, to make an inclusive collection to fit all participants.
Each outfit was designed to be as accessible as possible to accommodate the broadest needs and impairments. For example, some outfits had increased circumference width for those who had bionic arms. Others with mobility challenges had their uniforms adjusted, making the difference between being able to dress independently or needing assistance.
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“Clothes empower us and make our self-expression the best it can be,” he says. “That especially needs to happen on a team that is representing our country – that’s the one thing that unites them.”
A certification program and an educator on inclusivity
Palta’s main function is to grade brands on the inclusivity of their clothing. After giving garments a score, Palta assists the brand through workshops with their design teams that teaches the brands to create patterns that provide better mobility, and teaches them to deliver the message of inclusivity through better marketing and PR.
“These three things influence the widest range of individuals who have a disability and determine whether they’d be able to wear a product and how they’d feel in it,” Senior tells NoCamels.
“Based on these parameters, we assess all the information we can receive from a brand. If it fits the defined parameters then the garment would get a score, and from there the brand can take action.”
Palta has also started to educate the next generation of designers. The company offers a course for first-year fashion design students, sharing with them the elements or the methodology of how to do things that fit people with disabilities. Senior believes that if they see the advantages of inclusive design in the early stage of their studies, it’s easier in the future to look at people with disabilities as an audience and as a potential customer.
“When this next generation of fashion designers works for a brand or creates their own collection, they won’t be afraid of designing for other people,” he says.
The Neri Bloomfield Academy of Design and Education, the leading professional and academic institution for higher education in art in Haifa, northern Israel, is the first college to offer Palta’s course. Palta plans to expand its curriculum to more Israeli cities and countries, and is in conversation with universities in the US, Italy, and London.
Palta works with several Israeli firms, including Dorin Frankfurt, one of the most well-known designers in Israel, Delta Galil, an Israeli textile firm that owns several leading brands (Athena, Delta, 7 For All Mankind), and licenses selected garments for top global brands (Adidas, Calvin Klein Kids, Ralph Lauren), and Kornit Digital, a manufacturer of industrial and commercial printing solutions for the apparel and textile industries.
It is also collaborating with streetwear and sportswear brands in North America, and an underwear company in Europe.
As for the future, Palta aims to expand its inclusivity into different categories of fashion (including shoes and accessories), help more brands become more inclusive for people with disabilities, and design collections for numerous delegations at the Paris 2024 Paralympics.