Product development students present senior capstone projects with accessible clothing designs

Group photo of the product development class
Fall 2019 product development capstone students.

Colorado State University product development students’ creativity and innovative thinking were on display last semester when they were challenged with designing functional and stylish clothing for diverse audiences, including people with disabilities.

The Department of Design and Merchandising hosted an open house displaying senior apparel and merchandising students’ capstone projects to family, friends, and faculty members. This semester’s project was based on the industry of “adaptive apparel.”

More than 40 million people in the United States have a disability. In today’s clothing market, mass-produced clothing often lacks design styles that are considerate of people with diverse abilities. Adaptive apparel is designed to best suit people with disabilities or adaptive needs. A large issue in adaptive apparel is the lack of attention to the wearer’s style, expression, and aesthetics.

Assistant Professor Kristin Morris taught the capstone class. “Traditional ‘adaptive apparel’ does not reflect the person’s style preferences which can lead to a lack of participation in social activities,” she said. “Everyone wants to know they can find clothing that works for our body shapes, or is easy to wear, but also makes us feel good about ourselves!”

Idea behind accessible clothing

“Thinking about how to design for the greatest variety of users is a tremendous design challenge,” said Morris. “I wanted to use this to challenge the senior product development students to develop innovative design solutions.”

Throughout the semester, students researched different needs that are not met in traditional adaptive clothing. This included interviewing community members with a disability and distributing surveys to people within a targeted demographic to respond to with needs or ideas for their clothing. Students also discussed their ideas with Rustin Hughes, founder of B-Bold Empowered Adaptive Living, a non-profit organization in Fort Collins to empower people with disabilities through adaptive sports.

Product Development open house for the senior capstone class
Product development open house.

Adaptive apparel is not just for a niche market, as large apparel companies have also launched collections to meet this market segment. Students also met with Heath Olson, vice president of company store-west, for Tommy Hilfiger, which launched the Tommy Adaptive collection in 2015. With Olson, students inspected the design details of the collection and gained ideas for their capstone projects.

Demographics to consider included, physical activity level, disability, hobbies (including outdoor activities), income level, and area of residence. The students also developed prototypes of one unique aspect of their clothing line that reflected an adaptive innovation and created a website portfolio.

“These students embark on a semester-long technical design project in which they designed and developed inclusive apparel-based products that empower people with diverse abilities,” said Morris.

Along with designing clothes that are inclusive to disabilities, the students were also assigned to create their fashion line to promote sustainable fashion and manufacturing practices.

Adaptive ski wear

After researching and developing a product, students came up with inclusive clothing lines that ranged from ski wear to lounge wear.

Nick Koch smiling in front of his ski wear project
Nick Koch and his adaptive ski wear.

Nicolas Koch, a senior in the product development concentration, designed a line of sit-ski wear he named the Mountain Movement Collective. His ski pants prototype allows amputees to roll the pant leg up and clip the excess into the pants.

After growing up in the Gunnison Valley, skiing always played a major role in Koch’s life. He was inspired by his father’s time as an adaptive ski instructor in France to develop his project. Koch worked with the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte to research his line.

“I knew I was going to stick within the scope of winter outerwear, but I wanted to design for group of people who don’t have accessible winter outerwear,” Koch said.

Ideal fit for women over 50

Isabelle Clement is also a senior in the program. Her fashion line named Jewel is designed to best suit women between the ages of 56 to 65. The clothing adapts to women’s body changes both physically and internally.

Isabelle Clement smiling in front of her capstone project
Isabelle Clement and her adaptive clothing line for women 50+.

Clement was inspired to create her clothing line after researching and finding the neglected market of baby boomers in the workplace.

“I’ve had many experiences shopping with my mom, aunts, and godmother and realized that there are limited clothing options that adjust to natural body changes for women over the age of 50.”

Clement is also tackling the issue of non-compatible clothing to a woman’s body as they enter menopause.

“Not only does the female body change physically but also chemically. The average age for women to go through menopause in the U.S. is 51,” Clement said.

“During this time, the body experiences hot flashes,” she added. “And following menopause, the body tends to get cooler more easily. The need for breathable fabric, layering options, proper fit of clothing, and the continued excitement to wear a fun piece of clothing is a must!”

The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.