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Fashion Forward

BY DESIGN Members of Open Style Lab talk about inclusive fashion design in 2019. COURTESY OPEN STYLE LABS, INC.

Matthew Walzer was born with cerebral palsy. The disability affects his walking, balance, and fine motor skills fine motor skills pw-fine-motor-skills IMAGE SOURCE—GETTY IMAGES the ability to make small movements with the muscles of the hands and wrists (noun) Playing the piano requires fine motor skills. . “There were different things I had to do and use, to overcome [my challenges],” he told TIME for Kids.

By 16, Walzer was able to put clothes on by himself. But he still couldn’t tie his shoes. So in 2012, he wrote a letter to the shoe company Nike. He asked if Nike could make shoes to meet his needs. With Walzer’s input, the company will release the Nike Go FlyEase on March 19. They are sneakers that slip on hands-free.

One in four adults lives with a disability. That’s according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But many say the fashion industry has been slow to make clothes that are accessible. People are working to change that.

Functional Fashion

Gabby Kim Leung is a teacher and the caretaker of her husband, Ben. He’s paralyzed from the waist down. Leung has had trouble finding clothes for him. “I was shopping for weeks, and realized that there was just nothing out there,” she says. “We don’t have any options besides sweatpants and T-shirts.”

Open Style Lab teaches people about more-inclusive clothing. Grace Jun is its chief executive officer. She says designers tell her it’s “too hard to make adaptive adaptive PW adaptive CHRIS J. RATCLIFFE/BLOOMBERG—GETTY IMAGES designed for use by a disabled person (adjective) An adaptive controller helps Andrew play video games in spite of his disability. fashion. [But] that is not true.” Designs can have stretchier material, or Velcro instead of buttons.

Christina Mallon, chief brand officer for the group, is paralyzed in both arms. Mallon believes fashion helps people express themselves. “Not being able to express yourself is one of the hardest parts of being disabled,” she says. “It’s just so ignored.”

Some brands have adaptive fashion lines, but Walzer wants more change. “We’ve made great strides since I was young,” he says. “But there’s still so much more work that needs to be done.” Walzer encourages those who feel left out to call for change, like he did when he wrote to Nike. “Don’t be afraid to speak up,” he says.