But…first thing first:
What is OFF BEAT?!? You might (hope not, though!) ask!
From the official presentation you would learn that “The Off Beat is a YouTube Series, hosted by Award Nominated Recording Artist, Writer and Disability Rights Advocate Lachi. While Lachi has always had low vision, a recent diagnosis placed her on a path to total blindness within years. The series highlights Lachi’s journey learning how to do the things she’ll need to keep up her fierce and fabulous lifestyle alongside her intense bucket list, before completely losing her vision.”
Amazing, huh? Well, this time, Angela Bianchi and I were also involved in the scouting for all those inclusive fashion brands particularly addressing people with disabiliy and the visually impaired.
So one day, I found a picture on Instagram, of a red mask with braille writing on it: it had been posted by Aille Design.
As soon as I visited their profile I fell in love with the brand and immediately contacted Alexa about Off Beat and … this is how it all started!
Today, in conjunction with the release of the video she sponsored, I am really excited to share the story of her fantastic brand that goes far beyond being just clothing and accessoris. Alexa, has been identified as a pioneer in inclusive fashion, thanks to her academic research on fashion, visual impairments and social stigma. Her creative application of the intricate Braille beads explores themes of disability, desire and inclusion.
So… get passionate about it too and enjoy this interview 🙂
In the picture you can see a red mask with a silver-coloured braille inscription.
COULD YOU GIVE A LITTLE PRESENTATION ABOUT YOURSELF TO OUR READERS?
In the picture we see Alexa, a white woman with blonde hair, wearing a black mask with Braille writing sitting on the couch and to her right an latino woman standing wearing her red mask, denim shirt and trousers, holding a walking cane. Urban flat background.
I have always loved fashion, especially beaded clothing! Growing up, I knew right away that I wanted to be a fashion designer. As I got older and learned more about design, I became passionate about creating positive social change through innovative design thinking. I am the founder of the emerging designer fashion brand Aille Design (pronounced: eye), and I run the company based on my personal philosophy that “good design shouldn’t exclude anyone.”
At Aille Design, we create intricately beaded clothing, and what’s unique about this clothing is that all of the beading is actually fully legible braille. Using Swarovski Crystal Pearls, we create phrases in braille that describe the clothing characteristics of the item (such as color, textile, care content, fit, etc) or provide the option for customers to choose their own customized braille text. All products are created in collaboration with the blind and visually impaired community and are designed to be worn by both sighted and non-sighted consumers to increase diverse representation in fashion and advocate for the importance of accessibility.
HOW AND WHEN DID YOU HAVE THE INSPIRATION TO CREATE AILLE DESIGN?
Aille Design originated as my final capstone project when I was studying Fashion Communication at Ryerson University in Toronto. It was in school that I took courses about equity, diversity and inclusion, and learned about marginalized communities that were misrepresented and overlooked in fashion. While I was deciding on a topic for my final research project, I came across a beautiful beaded jacket and I made the connection between the similarity in size of small beads and braille. I did a lot of research, made prototypes, and built strong relationships with local blind and visually impaired individuals to learn more about their unique challenges with topics such as fashion trends, clothing identification, and society’s misconceptions of looking and feeling blind.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR THE BLIND COMMUNITY IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY?
From my perspective, the biggest challenge is society’s misconception that the blind community doesn’t care about fashion or their appearance, which simply isn’t true. As a result, these individuals are completely overlooked as consumers and misrepresented in fashion. So despite having spending power and the desire to purchase products, the industry isn’t targeting them effectively. Since the creation of Aille Design, I’ve had the privilege of working with incredible individuals from the blind and visually impaired community-some who walked confidently in stilettos with their white cane in hand, and others who don’t use a white cane, a guide dog, or wear sunglasses. It’s important to note that blindness is a spectrum and that without an increase in education and positive representation in media, society will continue to stereotype the community and exclude them from the fashion experience.
WHAT ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES OF WORKING IN THIS FIELD?
Working in inclusive fashion and adaptive clothing provides the opportunity to make history in fashion by empowering individuals to fully embrace themselves. Being a fashion designer has played a very meaningful role in my life, especially as a designer focusing on an area of fashion that’s often disregarded. Creating Braille beading has given me the opportunity to use my skill set to make a fashion statement, while also creating social impact. I’m able to work towards destigmatizing braille and blindness by providing positive connotations of luxury and increasing inclusive representation in fashion. I can’t possibly imagine doing anything else.
I KNOW YOU WORK CLOSELY WITH THE BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED COMMUNITY, WHICH MAKES YOUR PRODUCT 100% INCLUSIVE, HOW EXACTLY ARE THEY INVOLVED IN THE MAKING PROCESS OF YOUR PRODUCTS?
Aille Design products are made through a co-design process, which means the end-user is involved at every stage. Together, we discuss different clothing styles, color choices, what the braille should say, confirm the legibility of the braille beading, etc. To ensure our products appeal to a diverse range of customers, we also work closely with sighted individuals to confirm our products are fashion-forward and have high aesthetic appeal.
The picture shows a white woman with short blond hair, light eyes, red lipstick smiling at the camera. She’s standing in the centre of the picture wearing a long, tight-fitting sleeveless blue dress with silver braille writings. She’s holding a white walking cane for visually impaired people. White and light blue vases and a mirror in the background,
Model Cathrine Harrison, photographer Julia Wagner
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE GREATEST CHALLENGES SINCE YOU STARTED? AND, SINCE FROM DIFFICULT MOMENTS COME GREAT OPPORTUNITIES, WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR GREATEST SATISFACTION?
One of the greatest challenges took place during the initial research and prototyping stages when I was trying to determine the best way to fasten the braille beads. It was incredibly important that the braille was fully legible and tightly secured to the fabric. I will never forget the first time a participant was able to successfully read the beading on one of our prototypes. It was the denim jacket and we just began testing a new technique. The smile that appeared on her face, the joy that this experience brought her, and how proud she was of what we accomplished together is why being a fashion designer is so important to me.
ARE YOU POSITIVE ABOUT A MORE INCLUSIVE FUTURE IN THE WORLD OF FASHION? WHAT WILL BE AILLE DESIGN NEXT PROJECTS AND FUTURE GOALS?
Yes! A more inclusive fashion industry is long overdue, but I think the world is finally ready to embrace diversity, though society needs to work harder to represent individuals with disabilities. Discussions centered around inclusivity in fashion often focus on being size-inclusive and have recently emphasized race, gender, age, and sexual orientation. However, even when the conversation is about inclusion and diverse representation, individuals with disabilities are still excluded.
At Aille Design, our goal is to create a new standard of inclusion in fashion. We’re working towards growing Aille Design to a level that brings inclusive design to mainstream fashion on a global scale. We want to help normalize the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in all areas of fashion, from clothing design and modelling to accessible retail environments and experiences. We will continue to partner and collaborate with major companies and influencers who have already established market share in their respective areas, which will allow us to access a larger audience and increase our product offering. We’re honoured to have had the opportunity to work with Lachi Music and are very excited about the future opportunities ahead!
We, as Diversity Styling couldn’t be happier for this collaboration as well!
Now go watch episode 2 with Lachi wearing Aille Design while interviewing Molly Burke!!!!!!
Aille Design logo written in black on a white background with two dots on the first ‘i’.
All pictures courtesy of Aille Design Inc.