The Rapidian

DisArt packs house with runway fashion show celebrating accessible clothing

Robert Andy Coombs aimed to spark conversation about the importance of having functional clothing for people with disabilities.

The DisArt Festival aims to bring people together through different modes of art to further the discussion about disability and community. One such way the Festival is doing so is through fashion. 

On Friday, the DisArt Festival hosted two events to talk about accessible fashion, a workshop in the morning and a runway fashion show that evening. The Festival showcased Open Style Lab from MIT, Fashion Has Heart, Kendall College of Art and Design fashion students and Spectrum Health Innovations designs for people of all ages with disabilities. 

Friday morning at 9 a.m. students, designers and festival goers came together in the Ferris building at Kendall College to discuss their involvement in the Festival. 

“(Through the DisArt Festival) we wanted to do something that flipped perceptions on its head,” says Chris Smit, director of the DisArt Festival. 

Open Style Lab began as an extracurricular student group at MIT where students wanted to create functional, stylish clothing that people with or without disabilities could wear. The group pairs a person with disabilities up with an engineer, an occupational therapist and a designer to work together to create the most comfortable, functional and good looking garment possible. 

Fashion Has Heart is a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that makes clothing and boots designed by veterans to tell their stories. All proceeds of sales go toward veteran support.

Kendall College was approached by Spectrum Health Innovations about creating clothing for kids that receive occupational therapy at Spectrum. Many clothing companies that make garments for kids with disabilities are not sure how to do so or sell their product at a prohibitively high price. Students in a fashion for action and function class were each teamed up with one child and made a one-of-a-kind, fashionable garment that the child would be proud to wear while also being helped by it. 

At 7 p.m. Friday night, there was a fashion show in the same room at Kendall College to show off all the designs from the different companies. All of the models featured in the show were local to the Grand Rapids area. Led by Robert Andy Coombs, fashion coordinator for the festival, the event was a packed house, with nearly 300 guests filling the runway space lit with green and pink festival colors while a DJ played club music. 

Open Style Lab created three jackets that were easy for people with disabilities to put on and take off but were not only for Disabled users. The Lab really wanted to focus on making multi-way gear as to include more people and to bring more attention to bringing accessible clothing into the mainstream. 

Fashion Has Heart featured five of their styles, each with a t-shirt and a pair of boots that tell the story of the veteran who worked with the company to create the design. 

The Kendall College students created five styles over the course of the semester and were able to showcase their pieces on the kids that they were created for. The kids benefitted most from compression clothing, so the students were challenged to create clothes that they kids would want to wear but would also help compress and engage their muscles. 

“Fashion is communication,” says Liz Bartlett, the Kendall College professor that teaches the fashion class. “It’s a way for people to express their identity. DisArt celebrates identity differences but also our similarities.” 

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