Gemma Tyte is a graduate who has cerebral palsy and so understands some of the struggles disabled people have with clothing in general – “not to mention that what there is that caters to them, is really bland and boring”. Here she discusses her motivation and ambitions for making fashion more inclusive.
What motivated you to design an inclusive fashion collection?
There’s just this huge gap in the market where people aren’t being catered for or considered. I have a real passion to try to change that.
I did my university dissertation on disability in fashion and found out about all these other things that people need (from their clothes). I set up my own brand, catering to as many people as I possibly can.
I did lots and lots of research and I found some stupid statistics like, there are more clothing lines for dogs than for disabled people!
It’s ridiculous but basically, especially in the UK, there wasn’t very much unless it’s online only. What there is, isn’t really fun and expressive and that’s really what I wanted to do. When I design, I’m really interested in colour and texture and making unique and fun pieces that people can really express themselves with. And what’s out there is very functional and clinical. While it’s great that they were functional, actually people want to be able to express themselves through what they wear.
Do you think that dressing in a particular way holds people back?
This is quite a bold statement, but from my research what came across was: ‘Well, they’re disabled, so they can just have boring functional things. They don’t need anything exciting, because we’re already going out of our way to make it work for them’.
I thought about it a lot. Brands are already starting to cater to size, which is amazing. Pregnant women have curves, they have petit, so why don’t they do adapted or a slightly more inclusive range? On a basic level that could be just easy fastenings and easy to get on and off . That isn’t going to make people feel like they’re really embarrassed to shop in that section because it’s only for disabled people.
What was your starting point for your range?
My plan was to do a piece around wheelchair users, specifically for anyone that struggled to move around themselves so it was easy to get on and off and that kind of thing. And then I was going to do an outfit for amputees or people that need adjustable clothing that could work around whatever physical disability, and then I was going to do an outfit for hidden disabilities, because I have a hidden disability.
Actually, it’s something you don’t really think about but even just catering to hidden disabilities, just making it easier to put on, better fastenings, like using more Velcro, fewer buttons and fiddly things means that lots more people than just disabled people can use it. They do it already for elderly people where clothes are easy to get on and off and more straightforward.
It sounds like you had an overall design concept but during the production aspect things were being tweaked…
I did have some challenges, because it was knitwear so Velcro was not an option because Velcro and knitwear do not mix. I’ve learned a lot about things that you wouldn’t normally consider when you’re making clothes.
I had models; one who is a wheelchair user and one who has a prosthetic leg and I was asking them what they would want, just so I could make sure. As I was going along I realised how wide an area it is. Normally, when you’re a design student, you have a basic block (mannequin) but that also made me realise a lot of things, like the fact that we don’t have such a thing as a ‘seated mannequin’.
Did you enjoy being on the Fashion Knitwear Design degree course at Nottingham Trent University?
They were amazing. They were really good at supporting me but there were things that I had to do differently to everybody else. Because of my disability, my whole left side doesn’t work properly. So, with the complicated equipment I use, I really had my own way of doing things.
Fashion is a very robust industry, does that concern you?
Part of the reason as to why I’m going to try to start my own business is because the fashion industry isn’t great at accommodating people with disability. Even in a working environment sense.
I spoke with Victoria Jenkins from adapted clothing brand, Unhidden Clothing. She’s one of the only people that is doing it. She’s very similar to me and wants to make it easier for disabled people to have jobs in the fashion industry.
Why aren’t universal features more popular? Is it because they’re marketed specifically as clothes for disabled people?
To start off with I’m marketing (the range) as suitable for everyone but with consideration for people with disabilities or different sizes. Anyone can wear it regardless of whether it’s been slightly adapted or not. Also, I think, because there was so little available, you need to show that you’re actually thinking about disabled people. I think the dream would be just to make clothing that everyone has, and it wouldn’t be a separate thing.
I’m trying to start something here and I really want people to feel like they are included in the industry and that they are able to be unique and be themselves within it and not that I’m trying to just section them off so they feel embarrassed.
I want them to know that I am thinking about everybody as much as I possibly can. Even though that’s almost impossible. So many people have a disability and we’re missing a huge chunk of the market which is ridiculous.