When it comes to clothing, we all know what we’re going to get. Regardless of texture, pattern, colour or style, a shirt will always be a piece of fabric cut a particular way to accommodate a head, neck, chest, and two arms. That won’t change, and that’s fine, because there’s no reason to change it…is there?
The team at Open Style Lab thought differently. Based out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), they’ve made it their mission to design practical but stylish clothing for people whose lives require something out of the ordinary.
Their designs include the Rayn Coat, a waterproof jacket with an unfoldable hoodie pouch that covers the laps of wheelchair users, and a seamless, heavy-duty shirt tailored for autistic children with sensory processing disorders that often cause them to rip at their clothes.
“People with disabilities aren’t defined by their disability; why should their clothes be?”
Students in engineering, design, and rehabilitative medicines come from across the US to take part in the 10-week educational program, in which they collaborate with clients to create a specific piece of clothing to meet their needs. The product than has the potential to go commercial, as the Rayn Coat did in 2015.
It’s all part of a concept known as universal design, the notion that if designers focus on the underserved, it leads to the creation of better products for everyone. For instance, while the seamless shirt was designed to stop a young client named Eliza from becoming uncomfortable in her clothes, it also serves as quality performance wear for athletes, removing all points of abrasion while remaining flexible.
While universal design isn’t a new idea, it’s steadily gained traction in an innovative and embracive age. This has led to such brands as Reebok, New Balance, Eileen Fisher, and Magna Ready providing mentorship – and financing, in the case of Eileen Fisher – to those involved in the project.
“(It is) our contribution to a more inclusive, beautiful world,” says Open Style Lab co-founder and CEO Dr. Grace Teo.
Her colleague Grace Jun, the education director for the lab, recently received a call from the White House asking to take the program nationwide. Jun thinks it’s possible, but stressed the importance of finding the right people and partnerships to keep up both momentum and quality in a recent interview with Fast Company.
“It’s going to go into the health sector regardless, so the more informed you are about that the better your designs are going to be. Having a curriculum that fosters that and a holistic approach will help designers design whatever it is—garment, accessories, product—conscientiously.”
For more information on Open Style Lab, visit the official site.
Looking to buy the Rayn Coat? You can do so here.