Mary Grace Wilder’s grandmother is the one of the most stylish people she knows. She also spends an hour every day getting dressed. Since she has Parkinson’s disease, it’s often difficult to find clothing that fits her fashion needs while also being easy to put on.
During these hour-long dressing sessions, she never asks for help, Wilder said. Her grandmother wants to be able to do it herself, and there’s something very powerful in that.
Witnessing this prompted Wilder and NC State classmate Sabrina Martin to join forces and create their own adaptive fashion brand, anyBODY Clothing.
Wilder and Martin had plenty of classes together before they eventually decided on this as a joint project in their senior fashion studio course. The project in the course was to bring your own clothing line to life. But their specific goal? Create stylish clothes that are also functional for people living with disabilities.
Right now the market doesn’t have many options for those who struggle to get dressed in traditionally designed clothing but who also want to show off their style.
“You don’t really see a lot of cohesion,” Martin said. “It’s a very separate industry right now, and so it’s really important to us to show that these bodies and models with unique needs can be together on a runway.”
After partnering with 321 Coffee, a local coffee shop that has made a mission around employing people with disabilities, Martin and Wilder grew their burgeoning collection for their senior studio fashion show, Threads, on Dec. 4. They also approached their professor, Kate Annett-Hitchcock, about bringing the clothing line to an audience outside of class.
For Wilder and Martin, it’s a dream come true to actually pursue their startup as a career. After encouragement from mentors across the textile space, they decided to officially found the company in February of this year.
And anyBODY Clothing is already gaining traction, having received a $10,000 NC IDEA MICRO grant in April.
The adaptive clothing line offers consumers pieces with small adjustments to make it easier to get dressed in the morning along with more comfort in everyday wear. This could be something like hidden magnetic buttons instead of traditional buttons in pants. Or it could be elastic waistbands, adjustable sleeves, or pull-up loops on pants so those lacking fine motor skills can still grasp the fabric.
anyBODY comes down to the concept of universal design, Martin said. Previously, universal design has mainly had its applications in architecture and construction, like incorporating wheelchair ramps throughout a building. But there are ways to bring this to the fashion industry as well, Martin and Wilder said.
Says Wilder, “There’s something very important about being independent and having a dignified dressing experience, where you’re able to pick things that express who you are.”
So far, companies have tapped into adaptive clothing for children more than adults, Martin said. But the adult market is also desperately needing fashion that provides both functionality and style.
“It’s really important to still empower adults, as you’re a person first no matter what,” Martin said. “I think that’s forgotten when designers are designing for people with disabilities. And we want to remind people that no matter what the developmental, intellectual, or any challenge that someone might have, you’re always a person before that.”
What’s on the market now tends to target the elderly population, or those recovering from medical procedures. But there’s a tremendous gap there, and that’s what anyBODY Clothing hopes to fill.
“It doesn’t necessarily reflect the fashion designer groups,” Wilder said. “It’s very functional, but it doesn’t have a lot of style to it. And I think that’s what we’re trying to balance.”
NC IDEA grant has been a game-changer
As anyBODY gears up to launch by the end of the summer, the NC IDEA grant has been a game-changer, Martin said. As students, it’s easy to be overlooked because you lack business experience. But NC IDEA has provided validation and confidence about moving forward.
“Not only is our idea something that someone wants to invest in, but we are people that people want to invest in,” Martin said. “I think it’s changed our mentality a little bit… We were pursuing this regardless, but I think it’s been something that’s given us some confidence and some wind in our sails.”
While the pandemic ruined many things, launching anyBODY Clothing in a post-pandemic environment may have brought some upsides. Since businesses don’t necessarily need a physical building anymore, there’s reduced overhead costs. And e-commerce is exploding. Additionally, the customer discovery process is often made easier with just the click into a Zoom meeting.
Throughout the entire journey so far, Martin and Wilder have prioritized having conversations with other co-founders in apparel startups and leaders in textiles and entrepreneurship spaces. It’s important to learn from the community they are trying to serve, Martin said.
“If we’re not doing something that’s actually helpful and making a product that’s actually helpful,” Martin asked, “why are we doing it?”