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Oct. 10, 2014
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From the Editor's Pen Gary Barg • Editor-in-Chief • gary@caregiver.com

Gary Barg

Caregiving Innovations:
Adaptive Fashion

World renowned fashion designer Izzy Camilleri talks about her groundbreaking fashions designed specifically for wheelchair users

Gary Barg: How did you go from designing for Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Mark Wahlberg, David Bowie, and something I find fascinating, having one of the designs in The Devil Wears Prada to designing fashions for wheelchair users?

Izzy Camilleri: I met a woman named Barbara Turnbull about 10 years ago who is quadriplegic and she has been in a chair for about 30 years. She asked me if I could make her a cape. At the time, I had never worked with a wheelchair user, let alone someone with Barb’s disability. It became a huge learning experience on so many levels, and my eyes were just opened to the issues that she had surrounding clothing. I became a sponge, understanding what those clothing issues were. I also became just very compassionate about how she gets through her days. I would have these realizations of how she does things such as putting food in her mouth, because she cannot move her hands, and all the other things we take for granted on a daily basis. I became more and more enthralled in the whole thing and it just became a mission to really learn more.

IZ Adaptive AdGary: It is also so very important to family caregivers. I know that one of the challenges of being a wheelchair user is that you are limited as to the clothes you are able to wear.

Izzy: I did my own search on the Internet to see what is out there for this population. Everything I found was all very dated looking or stuff that really does not make a person feel good or allow a sense of self and identity.

Gary: There is no lack for style in your line on Izadaptive.com. What did you learn about designing for someone in a wheelchair?

Izzy: At first it was extremely overwhelming to understand how to achieve a uniformity in this collection that would work for people with all different kinds of conditions or disabilities or spinal cord injury. I still did not understand how I could really make this work for the bigger part of the population. But, when I was able to really break it all down and tear away the layers of my confusion, I realized the main difference is between a standing frame and a seated frame. Then I divide that into two kinds of clients—the manual chair users and the power chair users. The manual chair users are, for the most part, able to dress themselves. They have a lot of upper body strength. They are fairly independent. The power chair users, on the other hand, are usually dependent on other people to help them get dressed. That epiphany enabled me to move forward and start creating a line for this population.

Gary: What did you learn that helps a caregiver as they help dress their loved one?

Izzy CamilleriIzzy: The way that conventional clothes are cut, they are cut for standing. So, when we sit down, our clothes react in a funny way that we do not even think about because we are going to be standing up again. So with someone who is dressing somebody else, understand that conventional pants, for example, will ride at the back when you sit down. Caregivers are constantly yanking at the back, pulling the waist band up, because the pants are always wanting to ride down. It really does not matter how much yanking you do at the back to raise up those pants; they are just going to find their way back down. With our pants, we allow for the length that you need at the back so they stay in place.

The other thing for caregivers is just ease of dressing. We have pieces that separate into two halves, so you can dress someone from right to left, one side at a time. It makes dressing very easy. Often, there is a lot of yanking that goes on while trying to get an arm through an armhole that is very high and tight. So, for a caregiver, grabbing something that is loose is easier, like a pair of track pants. People tend to buy sizes that are bigger because they are easier to get on. But that just leaves the person looking sloppy and not as polished as everybody else out there. That affects you mentally, as well.

Gary: I like the concept of arm socks. Boy, does that make sense. Could you explain that?

Izzy: They are actually the same as leg warmers. They are the same product that you can wear on your legs or you can wear them on your arms. I think about my first client, Barbara Trimble; she gets very cold. Many people that are quadriplegic are just cold all the time. It does not matter how hot it is outside; staying warm and keeping warm is a problem. So, having little accessories like that really helps with keeping warm.

Gary: One of the greatest aspects of what you do is helping people maintain dignity. Do you hear that from the people who buy your clothes?

Izzy: From my customer’s perspective, I get a lot of gratitude and a lot of appreciation. I think they are just happy and relieved that someone is even thinking about their needs as a human being. I am happy just being able to offer them what everybody else out there has, instead of having to settle for what is going to work from a functionality perspective. I think a lot of times, with the other clothing lines that are out there, the function is what comes first and fashion is either secondary or non-existent.

Gary: I think you are helping a lot of people.

Izzy: I honestly feel honored that I can put my talents to some really important work. I feel like all those celebrities I have worked with have so much. To be able to do what I do, I feel like my clients are VIPs. What they deal with on a daily basis, just to get through their day, is humbling. Meryl Streep is going to be fine without me dressing her, and all those other people are going to be just fine. So, to be able to put my energy where it is now, is…I cannot…there are no words.

Gary: What is the one most important takeaway about your work that you would like to share with family caregivers?

Izzy: I think that with our line of clothes, we have really thought through the issues of being a wheelchair user, as well as keeping in mind all the challenges that someone has with dealing with their disability—which could even be things like lack of dexterity in their hands. We just want to be able to offer something that is not out there, and give people something to be able to feel good in—not having to be forced into wearing something because that is the only option. So, now we are giving them a lot of options and the same kind of options that everybody else has. We are able to build a person’s wardrobe from top to bottom.


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