Fashion Rule Breakers

Izzy Camilleri's Adaptive Clothing Line Will Help Everyone Find Their 'Perfect Fit'

"It offers the wearer something they may not have had access to before."

Fashion Rule Breakers is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Each month, we profile a fashion designer, model, organization, or icon who is a fashion rule breaker — someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make a positive difference.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1 billion people — 15 percent of the world's population — will have some sort of disability. Of those, nearly 200 million people will have to grapple with impaired functionality. Yet, while these statistics might ring true, the fashion industry has only recently begun to address the needs of those who are differently abled.

That's where IZ Adaptive's Izzy Camilleri comes in. 

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As the CEO and founder of this ready-to-wear apparel line designed for adults with physical disabilities, Camilleri aims to make getting dressed easier for everyone, and to help empower people to feel their best through fashion.

Camilleri's experiences with designing adaptive clothing started back in 2004 when she was approached by a woman, who was a wheelchair user, to create a shearling cape that would work for her very limited mobility. As one of Canada's most celebrated fashion designers, Camilleri has spent more than 30 years dressing film industry stars, such as Meryl Streep, Daniel Radcliffe, Mark Wahlberg, Angelina Jolie, and David Bowie, but this was foreign territory. 

Three looks from Izzy Camilleri's IZ Adaptive clothing line.
Courtesy IZ Adaptive

"It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least," Camilleri tells A Plus. "I had no idea that she had so many clothing challenges by being seated all day, with limited mobility." After creating custom clothing for this particular client over the years, Camilleri soon realized that, if she was experiencing such clothing issues, many other people out there were likely dealing with similar problems themselves. Thus, in 2009, Camilleri launched IZ Adaptive's first collection online.

Yet, while IZ Adaptive went dark for some time, as Camilleri reevaluated the company's approach, the new collection, which launched on September 24, features wardrobe basics for people with disabilities, both wheelchair users and those who are ambulatory. Design elements, such as magnetic closures, pull tabs on zippers and pants, elastic waistbands, and open-back tops, make getting dressed easier for everyone while bringing more independence to people with disabilities. 

"There are many, many features we've included in the pieces which make them accessible," Camilleri explains. "We've developed a unique cut for coats and pants that work better for wheelchair users who spend most of their day in a seated position. We use magnets to replace buttons, as well as have pull tabs on pants for people who lack dexterity.  Our clothes are basically designed and made for ease of dressing but still have style and a fashion element to every piece."  

Because IZ Adaptive's line caters to an expansive list of disabilities, Camilleri promises that anyone who could use adaptive clothing can find items that will work well for them. Camilleri adds that adaptive clothing can be empowering, as it offers the wearer something they may not have had access to before, including a sense of self and dignity. 

"When I started back in 2009, my peers in the fashion industry did not understand the new path I was taking," Camilleri says. "They were all scratching their heads wondering why I was leaving my high fashion Izzy Camilleri Collection, and moving into an area that was unknown and untapped. At the time, there were hardly any companies catering to this market, and those that were, were primarily focusing on the elderly with very dated designs and fabrics."

"When I launched the line, I was being labeled a pioneer for my revolutionary designs for people living with a disability," she adds. "It was 2009 and I was amazed that no one had really wrapped their heads around it before, given that the market is so large. Now, however, it's become a topic of interest with more and more companies wanting to enter."

Camilleri notes that there's definitely a light being shone on inclusion and adaptive clothing, with major brands coming out with adaptive clothing lines, as well as more inclusive models being chosen for runway shows. After all, inclusion remains important in every aspect of life, not just fashion. In fact, as Camilleri emphasizes, every industry should be more mindful to include everyone the best they can.

Four looks from Izzy Camilleri's IZ Adaptive clothing line.
Courtesy IZ Adaptive

"Before I entered this arena, I had no idea that people living with a disability had different clothing needs than I," she explains. "I didn't realize there was a problem or need. Whenever I saw someone living with a disability, they were dressed, but what I didn't know was how limited their options were or how difficult and long it took them to get dressed."

For companies that wish to embrace inclusion, Camilleri suggests talking to people who live with a disability and asking questions. "Find out what their issues are, listen to what they have to say, then start coming up with solutions," she says. "Simple things, like closure options, fabric selection, and comfort without sacrificing design, are all little things that could make an article of clothing accessible."  

And now, with more and more apparel companies creating and promoting their adaptive clothing collections, the market has become increasingly visible, thereby providing those who live with disability more options than ever before.

"Like anyone, finding that article of clothing you've always wanted feels pretty good and makes you feel like a million bucks," Camilleri adds. "For people living with a disability, their search for clothing involves more than just looking for the right piece or style. Functionality of the item is sometimes the deciding factor — whether they are able to wear it or not, and ultimately owning. Now, with more adaptive clothing options, people living with a disability can feel empowered."

Cover image: IZ Adaptive

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