Open Style Lab / Design for Disability - 2017
Unparalleled is a wool coat that Christina can don and doff (meaning put on and take off) independently without assistance. Christina was diagnosed with a variant of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease or Motor Neuron Disease) called flail arm syndrome that caused both her arms to have paralysis (losing complete ability to move) and unable to wear clothes herself. The coat enables Christina to keep warm during cold New York winters, so that she can do her daily tasks independently.
I collaborated with Claudia Poh (Fashion Design) and Estee Bruno (Design & Technology) on Unparalleled. We were shortlisted as an international finalist in the 2017/2018 Blackwood Design Awards for Best Collaborative Project.
Please click on the screen to see the video of our story and process!
Christina Mallon is a digital marketing manager in her late 20s living in NYC. 7 years ago, she was diagnosed with a type of ALS called flail arm syndrome after an almost fatal car accident. She started to feel weakness in both of her arms and eventually became completely paralyzed. It is a challenge for Christina put on and take off clothes. Over the 7 years since she has been diagnosed, Christina has learned to depend on her mouth, legs and feet to do daily tasks. She also lives alone, and has a caretaker who comes to her home to assist her every morning.
Her Current Solutions
Donning (putting on) and Doffing (taking off) a Winter Jacket
Christina uses various things around her home to assist her with donning and doffing, such as her bed post, the doorknob and a wall hook in order to pull zippers, stretch out waistbands, and widen neck holes.
She also has a custom designed free standing assistive device made by therapists that allows her to be able to put on winter jackets. The device is 4 feet high and it takes her around 2 - 3 minutes to put on a jacket with the device.
Christina designs her environment in order to wear clothes, instead of designing clothes that can adapt to her environment.
How can people with limited upper body mobility dress independently?
Range of Motion
Christina has no range of motion in her hands and arms. However, she is still able to use her shoulders to swing her arms. Her neck and torso are frequently used. She relies mostly on her toes, feet, legs and mouth.
When we consulted occupational therapists, they advised us to see Christina's disability as a muscular dystrophy instead of ALS, since her symptoms are more similar to that.
Because Christina cannot bend her arms, she is unable to put on a traditional long sleeves shirt. We took inspiration from a Japanese Kimono/Yukata, where the sleeves have very large openings. If Christina could have a coat that was similar, it would be much easier for her to don on and off.
Christina's Personal Clothing Style
Clothing is a very personal preference when it comes to style and aesthetic sensibility. We evaluated Christina's clothing style to create something that she would love to wear. Many of her favorite clothing pieces come from Zara, Club Monaco, J Crew and Theory and usually either neutral solid colors or classic patterns.
She is a classic New York City woman and loves to wear the color black.
We split the wearing process into two parts by splitting the coat into two parts. This way, the sleeves can be donned on after the body. We wanted the two part garment to utilize some of the types of clothing and donning/doffing methods Christina is able to do independently based on her range of motion. We analyzed a lot of the existing clothes in Christina’s closet that worked well for her. We modeled the sleeveless waistcoat after her sleeveless dress. Then the sleeves are similar to a cropped kimono that she will layer on top of the waistcoat.
BODY: sliding into SLEEVELESS garment
Christina is able to slip in and out of a sleeveless dress that isn't very form fitting because she does not need to bend her arms to get into the dress. The lining of the dress is a very slippery polyester and the hemline at the back is shortened, allowing for easier donning.
Sleeves: DROPPING arms INTO POINT OF ENTRY
We observed that Christina uses her jacket assistive device by dropping her shoulders and arms into the sleeves of jackets. For the sleeves, we kept the point of entry as wide as possible to that she is able to slip her arms into it. The neck hole is stiffened and reinforced with boning in order to maintain an accessible entry point for the head.
Through iterations of different prototypes, we troubleshooted challenges and made changes to the length of the garment, the stiffness of the neck hole, slipping in and out of the garment, weight and stretch of the fabric, and aesthetics. We prototyped with muslin as well as with actual fabric (wool, elastic, polyester lining.)
We had Christina don on and off our prototypes of over 10 iterations and timed her to see how we could make it faster for her to put on.
We made adjustments after fitting the prototypes to change the way the garment drapes, tapers, stays in place, and making it more form fitting to Christina's figure without conpensating its fuctionality.
The final design of the garment is made out of black wool and polyester lining. We incorporated the following details to make the garment fully functional for independent donning and doffing.
Wide sleeves for Christina to drop her arms into.
Reinforcing the neck hole with boning for easier access to entry point.
Elastic fabric panel at the back for easier access to entry point and eliminating any hardware or closures.
Tapered shoulder part of the sleeve so it would stay in place better.
Polyester lining to reduce friction during donning and doffing.
Sewn in waist belt for a more formfitting look.
Universal garment that can be worn by anyone, even without a disability.
Donning: 1 minute and 18 seconds
Doffing: 37 seconds
"It's freezing for three months, and if I had no coat to wear, I would probably have to quit my job because I couldn't get to it every day, and Open Style Lab made a fashionable coat for me that looks like something I could buy from Theory.
I'm able to get to work every day, and make an income, and then also be a role model for people with disabilities, showing that they can do everything, no matter what."