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From the European Space Agency to Designing Adaptive Clothing: Meet Ellen Fowles

The lady who cares and believes that style has nothing to do with age or ability.

Get inspired and enjoy the read!

Who is Ellen Fowles?

“I’m an adaptive-wear designer based in London. I practice a cross-generational approach to inclusive design. I frequently co-design and consult with disabled people and collaborate with healthcare professionals. I grew up wanting to be a nurse, so now I provide an element of care for people through the clothing I make.”

Was adaptive clothing always in your mind or...?

“Living with my grandparents, I have seen first-hand how their aging and eventual disablement directly compromises their clothing options, and therefore their sense of identity and personal style. My Nan’s design preference has significantly informed my aesthetic. Her taste is tailored but paired-back. Yet, so often she is forced to wear ill-fitting sportswear as it’s easier to put on, or because it better accommodates her rehabilitation methods. My aim was to incorporate this functionality in our shared style and provide her with clothing that suited her physical needs with a more dignified and less clinical aesthetic.” 

About the production process... how do you know what is the right thing to make?

“My practice is built on ethnographic research and human-centred design methodologies. From rapid ideation to material testing and fit sessions, I involve the wearer across the creative process. I resolve design issues by taking a cross-disciplinary approach and analyzing lived experience. I try to solve the problem for one person and then figure out how to expand the solution for others.”

European Space Agency and clothing - what is the connection?

“I was involved in a research brief that responded to the concept of ‘couture in orbit’, and the future of space travel and uniform. I combined innovative performance fabrics, such as sympatex and bionic yarn, with ergonomic pattern cutting and kinetic garment construction. The speculative prototypes were built to protect and enable the wearer. We even got feedback from Tim Peake in the International Space Station!” 

What is your next goal?

“I am currently working as a design fellow at the Open Style Lab, collaborating with engineers and occupational therapists, and co-designing with members of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It has been fantastic to continue this remotely in lockdown, and work with people from across the globe. I hope to continue this type of research and educate other people to practice inclusive design. My aim is to create garments that both disabled and able-bodied people can enjoy.”

Your design have a Japanese allure - is that a style you choose for yourself as well?

“I have made three different Kimono variations for my Nan, with sand-washed silk, brushed linen and cotton khadi. We both love the silhouette and drape. The fit of traditional Japanese clothing offers dignified coverage but also easy access to different parts of the body. Very useful in adaptivewear, and comfortable for all body types!” 

Your message to the fashion industry

“There is an excess of ‘product’ in the world. This is an enhanced problem in the fashion industry, yet the needs of our ageing population and disabled people are broadly ignored. The adaptive clothing market needs to provide functional solutions without enforcing a clinical aesthetic. Furthermore, the education system must amplify the voices of disabled designers to establish a rigorous standard for inclusive design.”

Right now Ellen makes luxury bespoke pieces working with international clients on an individual basis. She is also working on developing the capsule collection to be manufactured and distributed at different retailers. if you are a retailer or a final customer you can contact Ellen here and follow Ellen on Instagram

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