Iconic American designer Tommy Hilfiger was one of the first to launch a stylish adaptive collection for people with disabilities. Here, he discusses the inspiration and design process behind the range, and how it has influenced fashion for everyone.
Why is adaptive fashion so important to you?
As the father of autistic children, I have experienced first-hand the difficulties of them getting dressed. Picking out your clothes for the day should be a joy, not a chore. Everyone deserves to feel good in their clothes and have independence.
How did the Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive collection get started?
It all began with a boy who wanted to wear jeans to school. He lives with muscular dystrophy, so buttons and zippers were challenging, and the legs wouldn’t fit over his braces. The team and I heard how his mother stayed up late to add velcro closures down the inseams and raced to his school during her lunch break to help him go to the bathroom – all so he could wear jeans like his friends. It was a no-brainer; we needed to do something.
What are the challenges when designing an adaptive collection?
As the first designer brand to develop an adaptive line of clothing for both adults and kids, there was a steep learning curve and a whole lot of trial and error. We found there were a few useful features already available on the market, but quickly realised that to make a real difference we would have to go further. Every disability presents a unique perspective. For example, when designing a piece for a wheelchair user, we need to consider where we place zips, buttons and pockets. We took a broad approach for the collection, creating innovations that would assist as many people in the community as possible. As time goes on, we hope to expand and provide style that is welcoming to everyone.
What is the philosophy that drives the collection?
I always wanted to build a global lifestyle brand that is for everyone. The adaptive collections continue to build on that vision, empowering adults and kids with disabilities to express themselves through fashion. The future will only see us invest more in this collection.
What was the design inspiration behind the Adaptive collection?
While Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive features modifications that make getting dressed less complicated, it has the same quality, design, and aesthetic as our other collections. That’s what makes it amazing. You would never know by looking at a piece that it’s adaptive, and this kind of design equality was very important to me. That’s what it’s all about: levelling the playing field so that everyone can look equally cool and stylish.
What was the design process for creating the Adaptive collection?
Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive starts with our classic, American-cool style. Each piece has the same design ethos and quality that we offer everyone else, but every innovation began with an individual need. We hosted extensive focus groups and gathered valuable feedback on the products. Our patent-pending magnetic zipper, for example, was originally designed for someone with a limb difference, as that was a significant issue. It quickly became clear that being able to zip and unzip a jacket with one hand was a feature that everyone could appreciate.
How well do you think the fashion industry has done responding to calls to be more inclusive?
Over the course of our industry’s history, we have seen the impact that inclusivity can have. Bringing side-lined marginalised groups into the spotlight breaks down barriers and preconceptions, creating the foundation for a more inclusive society. Big changes in any industry take time to be adopted by the mainstream. We’ve always seen ourselves as trailblazers, with our incredible teams focused on evolving consumer needs. As a global brand, we have a responsibility to cultivate change where we see it’s needed most – and leading the way for adaptive fashion is something of which we’re very proud.
How does Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive contribute to your brand culture?
As a brand, we are constantly finding new ways to be more inclusive, diverse and democratic. Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive embodies these values. Whether it’s through expanded curve sizing or more gender-neutral design, each season we’ll continue further delivering on our promise to make fashion more comfortable, enjoyable and resonant for everyone.