Katie Ellis, founder of The Able Label a stylish range of assisted dressing clothing, tells us what made her decide to set up the brand and how she went about it.
I was working in the fashion industry as a buyer for White Stuff when my grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s dementia. It was a very difficult time for our family but we all pulled together to help where we could with the aim of keeping her as independent as possible for as long as we could.
Dealing with challenges
One of the things she began to find particularly challenging each day was dressing. Dressing is a very personal and private activity and she used to tell me, “the thing I find most difficult to get on with is the fact your grandfather has to help me dress. I feel like I’ve lost a bit of me as I’m losing my independence and dignity.”
High street clothing had become impossible for her. In particular, there were three elements to her dressing, which she struggled with – physical, cognitive and assisted dressing.
The physical side of her dressing was a challenge with fastenings like buttons proving too fiddly to manipulate as her fine motor skills deteriorated. She also lacked dexterity, strength and tired quickly so found overhead dressing to be painful and quite impossible. Her balance was also poor increasing the risk of her falling during dressing.
Cognitively she was affected by Parkinson’s dementia so every now and again would look at a garment and not know what to do with it.
Assisted dressing was required when her Parkinson’s dementia became more advanced. It wasn’t nice for us seeing carers also struggle to get clothes on and off her so it can’t have been pleasant for her.
We sat down together one afternoon and searched online for possible solutions to her dressing difficulties. There was very little choice in the way of options that were functional and fashionable. Whilst she needed easier dressing items, she was certainly not willing to give up on her appearance for it!
It was very disheartening and I was so frustrated by the lack of options, that I decided to look further into what I could do to help. After more research, it became very apparent that my grandmother was most certainly not alone with her desire to remain stylish but also have easier dressing clothing that high street retailers simply do not cater for.
Finding a solution
I drew upon my experience as a buyer and worked closely with our design team as well as occupational therapists and those who would benefit from the clothes, to create a new range considering elements that the high street does not.
The result after nearly two years of developing, trialing and testing was a range of great-looking, adaptive clothing that women would love to wear yet also find easy to live with.
The Able Label was born and designed so that every item of clothing would maintain style, encourage independence and instill confidence among women. Feeling comfortable in the clothes is essential with every item. The range allows individuals to retain some choice, expressing their own identity and personal style whilst also feeling a sense of achievement in being able to dress or partially dress themselves.
The range was designed to help overcome the key dressing difficulties so many like my grandmother faced each day including:
The physical difficulties have been considered with fiddly fastenings like buttons, being replaced with discrete and secure, touch closing Velcro. Any buttons are for decoration only.
There is no overhead dressing with everything being re-designed to open at the front. This reduces the stress involved in dressing as the wearer can see what is going on at all times and also makes the clothes easier to get into and out of.
We offer wrap styles to reduce balance needed to dress and reduce the risk of falls. Stretchier fabrics have been used so they’re easier to get on as they move further around the body meaning the wearer does not need to stretch as far. They also provide far greater comfort when worn.
We appreciated that the clothes not only needed to be easier to dress, they needed to be easier to maintain. All clothes can therefore be washed at 40 degrees and use easy care fabric where most will not need ironing when hung to dry.
Cognitive difficulties have been helped by colour-coordinating the internals of our garments. Lime is for left and red is for right to help ensure garments are dressed the correct way around. Also, the armholes have clear colours around them, which helps provide a visual target when putting arms into armholes.
Assisted dressing has been considered with wrap styles in particular proving quicker, easier and safer to dress individuals into in a more dignified way.
The feedback we’ve had from customers has been extremely rewarding and we’re looking forward to making a positive impact on their lives and the lives of others who want stylish clothes that are easy to put on.