Garment+ worked with a group of patients to co-create new garment designs that are mobility-friendly and to test the role of fashion as a vehicle for positive wellbeing in patients with musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions.
Fashion designer Alexa Chan and Dr Heidi Lempp, Senior Lecturer in Medical Sociology in the Department of Academic Rheumatology, worked with a group of patients to co-create new garment designs that are mobility-friendly. In four workshops, design parameters were determined through an iterative cycle of making, testing, feedback and modification. This allowed for the development of template designs that aimed to overcome the different barriers to independent dressing and offer patients wider choice.
Fashion plays an important part in people’s lives and contributes to our sense of identity. This is no less true for people living with long-term musculoskeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, who often have difficulty dressing due to pain, stiffness, fatigue and restricted joint mobility. However, mainstream garments marginalise a significant proportion of the population: there were an estimated 11.6 million people living with disability in the UK in 2014. Clothing that allows for more ease when dressing and for greater comfort, independence and movement is needed. Though ‘accommodative fashion’ exists, studies have shown that people living with musculoskeletal conditions believe that these garments contribute to their sense of ‘illness’ as their aesthetics are often not compatible with their everyday lives.
Patient participants in Garment+ found that the new clothes developed were functional, accessible and aesthetically compatible with their daily lives and that they would therefore maximise their independence and social acceptance. They reported that this, in turn, would play a pivotal role in sustaining their feeling of control in their personal lives.
Garment+ is producing an educational toolkit for designers to encourage fashion students to consider often overlooked body types and capabilities, without compromising aesthetic inclinations. The project has been featured in the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society magazine and the team have presented their findings at national conferences. A paper, Garment +: Challenging the Boundaries of Fashion for those with long-term physical disabilities, has been published in the Journal of Dress History.
Garment+ summative exhibition installation shots, courtesy of Dr Heidi Lempp and Alexa Chan
Garment+ is a collaboration between King's College London's Department of Academic Rheumatology and designer Alexa Chan. It was supported by the university's Culture team.