We have all had that moment of hopelessness, crying out “I’ve got nothing to wear!” whilst staring into a wardrobe full of perfectly-fitting clothes. Now imagine yourself in this predicament on a daily basis, but not because of an inability to make a decisive fashionable decision. It is instead because you live with Down syndrome.
Statistics show that two babies per day in the UK are born with Down syndrome, resulting in approximately 60,000 people living with the condition. Most cases of the developmental disorder come from each cell in the body having three copies of chromosome 21, rather than the usual two copies. This is referred to as ‘trisomy 21’.
Learning difficulties and physical developments are affected as a result, meaning differences in facial and body features too. Having shorter legs and torsos, in conjunction with a low muscle tone, is common. In some cases, thyroid problems occur and weight gain is a common factor, particularly around the stomach. It is a body shape too frequently ignored. “Clothes off the rack generally don’t fit well at all,” Karen Bowersox - whose granddaughter has the condition – told The Daily Dot.
Change is on the horizon though. In February 2015, Jamie Brewer made history as the first Down syndrome model to walk on a New York Fashion Week catwalk, boldly featuring in Carrie Hammer’s show. Eighteen-year-old Madeline Stuart followed suit in September 2015. Stuart’s modelling success was championed by her mother on the Madeline Stuart Modelling Blog as a vehicle for “creating inclusion, stopping discrimination and breaking down those walls of confinement.” It is a statement that stands in stark contrast with the many fashion designers whose designs suggest that on-trend garments are only engineered for a certain human shape and size.
According to Thomas Weiss, writing for disabled-world.com, people with Down syndrome are considered to not care about fashion or the need to dress desirably. Unfortunately, the Down syndrome consumer is forced to purchase poor fitting clothing that is uncomfortable and less aesthetically desirable. “Purchasing clothing can become a nightmarish process because, after paying for clothing, it is still necessary to pay for expensive alterations to get the clothing to fit appropriately,” Weiss explains.
Bowersox wanted to put an end to this after watching her granddaughter struggle to find suitably fitting clothes from the high street. The grandmother founded a non-profit (pending) corporation called ‘Downs Designs Dreams’, which aims to create easy-wearing jeans that look fashionable. Desirable aesthetics aside, these designs also enable consumers with Down syndrome to dress independently, adding an element of autonomy to a daily activity that many of us take for granted.
The brand was highlighted as an inspirational phenomenon and a welcome alternative to the often expensive clothing adaption services that are currently the main port of call for the Down syndrome consumer. Discussion of how UK made-to-measure manufacturing could create suitably fitting garments for the consumer with Down syndrome is one that is now taking place, in the hope that in the future brands will embrace this much-needed improvement. Passivity can lead to discrimination; and perhaps it is time for the high street to take note.
Lydia Hubbard is a fourth year BA (Hons) Fashion Management student at Nottingham Trent University and is currently conducting an in-depth investigation into how UK made-to-measure manufacturing could create suitably-fitting garments for people with Down syndrome. If you or someone you know could contribute to this research, please contact PETRIe Features Editor, Elizabeth Neep on firstname.lastname@example.org
Words: Lydia Hubbard
Images source: Getty Images / Rosanne Stuart / Our T-shirt