The brainchild of occupational therapists, Emma and Molly, JAM the label is an Australian fashion company making adaptive fashion.
Nicole Smith caught up with the duo to ask them about the idea behind the label and their hopes for a more inclusive Australian fashion industry.
There was a certain irony to the fact that I conducted a phone interview with Emma and Molly of JAM the Label with a jacket in my bag—a jacket that I am unable to put on independently. You see, just like Jack and Maddy, the inspiration behind JAM, I live with Cerebral Palsy, use a power wheelchair and receive assistance from support workers when dressing.
Now full-time Occupational Therapists, Emma and Molly worked as disability support workers while studying—Molly with Jack and Emma with Maddie. Jack and Maddie’s Cerebral Palsy has resulted in both being visually impaired. Maddie communicates through facial expression.
Debriefing after shifts, the students realised that Emma struggled when helping Maddie dress for the same reasons Molly struggled when helping Jack dress.
‘Sometimes we’d be out in the community and it would get cold or windy, but you couldn’t help them get a jacket on or off them whilst they were in the wheelchair,’ said Emma.
Adapting the environment
There is a principle which underpins Occupational Therapy: “If you can’t adapt the task, adapt the environment”, a philosophy that encouraged Emma and Molly to explore adaptive clothing. They found that while adaptive clothing has been designed by brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Marks and Spencer, there was a noticeable lack of adaptive clothing in Australia.
‘We really struggled to find a trendy, cool, adaptive clothing line. Any clothes that were easy to wear seemed a bit daggy or age-inappropriate for teenagers,’ said Molly.
The pair conducted a small survey. Respondents suggested that due to the ‘four seasons in one day’ Melbourne weather, an adaptive jacket would be of greatest value. Emma and Molly spoke to a mutual friend who studies fashion and started designing a jacket, including Jack and Maddie in every part of the process.
‘The first design was plain black fabric that we got from spotlight just to see if the design would work…We showed Jack… and said: “What if we had it made with funky colours or a cool pattern?”’ said Emma.
JAM the label was born, with the first product the Confetti jacket.
Freedom in fashion
For a wheelchair user living with spasticity, putting on a jacket is comparable to having the restrictions of a car seatbelt and someone assisting you in leaning forward. The Confetti jacket sleeves are fully zippable down to the wrists allowing the jacket to be pulled over the head like a poncho. There are also velcro fasteners at the wrist to ensure hands don’t disappear into sleeves, and a shorter and higher back to prevent bunching and irritation. There are no tags on any of the products to cater for those with tactile sensitivity. To the founders of JAM, choosing how to present oneself is a symbol of freedom often not afforded to those with disability.
‘Everyone else can wake up in the morning and choose what they want to wear that reflects their style and self-expression, why are [people with disabilities] not allowed that opportunity?!’ Emma said.
Emma and Molly first displayed their products at the Source Kids Expo in March, where all feedback followed a similar theme: it is a simple business idea, yet there is such a need.
Contravening the rule of not going into business with your friends, Emma and Molly found that their friendship has enhanced their business relationship.
The pair, although youthful at twenty-five and twenty-six years old, are well-equipped to build this business. Molly works at a day service for adults with intellectual disabilities, while Emma is employed at a special needs school. So they are surrounded by inspiration for adaptive clothing every day. Their one rule? ‘Don’t go too broad too quickly’.
‘At the moment, we are taking it month by month, conducting market research, focusing on getting our name out there and gathering feedback for the two products we have,’ said Emma.
A one-stop shop
The launch of JAM has coincided with the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Emma and Molly are planning on using the timing to their advantage.
‘Why not create a one-stop shop for people of all different abilities and needs to go to the one website, now that people with disabilities in Australia have more control over what they purchase and what services they access,’ said Molly.
This online store would be a platform for adaptive clothing, where items such as adaptive bras and shoes would be promoted and available for purchase. Yet Emma and Molly are keen to ensure that JAM is not positioned as a disability equipment company, but as any other clothing brand, and primarily a fashion label. They believe that universal design is the way of future
‘This is just the beginning, and we can’t wait to see the Australian fashion industry become more inclusive,’ Emma said.
Nicole Smith has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair. She works as a Membership Engagement and Communications Officer, and has a blog where she interviews social entrepreneurs: www.blankpagesandemptyspaces.comNicole Smith
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