Australian Fashion Week: Carol Taylor, the world’s first quadriplegic designer, makes her debut

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It was 2001 when an accident abruptly changed Carol Taylor’s career path.

Taylor, who now lives with quadriplegia, suddenly became paralyzed from the chest down after her spinal cord was severed. Her arm movements were restricted and she could not move her hands or fingers.

Gradually, after making some modifications to the brushes and obtaining specially designed tools, Taylor learned how to draw, paint, and eventually design clothes.

Thursday, as part of a partnership between the Adaptive Clothing Collective and adaptive fashion brand Christina Stephenshis creations will be presented on the podium of Australian Fashion Week Afterpay (AAFW).

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Designer Carol Taylor: “There is no substitute for the lived experience of disability when designing adaptive clothing.” (Supplied/Christina Stevens)

“People can expect to see quite a different collection on this runway than what they’ve seen from us in the past,” Jessie Sadler, who founded Christina Stephens after her mother fell and s ‘Dressing in her usual style has become a challenge, says 9Honey Style.

Earlier this year, Taylor – who she knows is the only quadriplegic fashion designer in the world and who Sadler says has a very different style of design than herself – was welcomed aboard Christina Stephens, which is funded by the NDIS, as a partner in the venture. , lead designer and production manager.

“In my opinion, there is no substitute for the lived experience of disability when designing adaptive clothing,” Taylor told 9Honey Style.

Contact Bronte Gossling at [email protected].

Jessie Sadler and Carol Taylor, Christina Stephens
Christina Stephens’ Jessie Sadler and Carol Taylor. (Supplied/Christina Stevens)

Although Taylor has no formal training in fashion, she has spent 20 years designing clothes for herself to meet her specific needs, and stresses that there are many variables that need to be considered when designing. it is a question of responding to different handicaps.

“My hands are completely paralyzed, so, unsurprisingly, the buttons present a real problem,” Taylor says, explaining that since the invention of the button thousands of years ago, the design has “not changed much.” .

“I love the bling of buttons but the convenience of magnets. While I may still need help getting dressed, I cling fiercely to any bit of independence than magnetic buttons. or zippers could offer.”

For Taylor, adaptive clothing is not limited to the mechanisms used to attach clothing. On the contrary, this is only the beginning.

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Christina Stephens
Christina Stephens’ adaptive designs will be showcased at Afterpay Australia Fashion Week on Thursday. (Supplied/Christina Stevens)

Highlighting the common – and life-threatening – complication of autonomic dysreflexia in people with spinal cord injuries, Taylor says “good design” can help dampen the stimuli that can trigger the sudden and extreme fluctuations in pressure. blood pressure, sometimes fatal, that can occur. without warning and can be caused by “something as simple as a fluctuation in temperature”.

“A seam placed in the wrong position could cause a pressure injury leading to hospitalization and putting someone out of action for months,” Taylor says of how clothing can present a complication for people with paralysis. in the form of scars.

Taylor herself spent a month in hospital last year due to a bedsore, which she says she is still recovering from eight months later.

“Excess tissue in the wrong place can cause excruciating nerve pain, undoing any plans you might have had for the day,” she says.

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caro taylor
Carol Taylor used to work as a lawyer, but turned to fashion design after an accident injured her spinal cord. (Supplied/Christina Stevens)

Adaptive clothing design should have accessibility and functionality in mind, but that doesn’t mean flair or style should be sacrificed.

Taylor points out how, with spinal cord injury in particular, one can experience significant changes in body shape and therefore the choice of clothing becomes “all about the caregiver and nothing about the wearer”.

“To enable assisted dressing, retail items should be purchased one or even two sizes larger than necessary to allow someone else to navigate the item around the elbows [or] shoulders,” Taylor says, noting that before her injury, she loved all things fashion and style, and her injury didn’t change that. “This is where the lived experience of disability can really make a difference.

Despite the fact that nearly one in five Australians live with a disability, Taylor felt “left out of the fashion conversation” after her injury, and that’s what inspired her to design her own clothes.

“In my experience, people with disabilities want to be fashionable,” she says. “How you dress depends on your core identity, your confidence, but most of all it has a direct impact on how the world perceives you and so often underestimates you. That’s how clothes are mighty!”

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Jessie Sadler founded Christina Stephens after her mother fell, which left her with challenges in clothing and styling. (Supplied/Christina Stevens)

Taylor and Sadler’s designs with Christina Stephens will be featured at the Adaptive Fashion Collective show in Gallery 1 of Redfern’s Carriageworks at 10 a.m. Thursday, and models include author and disability advocate Lisa Cox, doctor, lawyer, scientist and disability advocate people with disabilities Dinesh Palipana, artist and author Suzanne Berry, artist and influencer Emma Carey and model Bella Herrmann.

While this year’s AAFW also the event’s first inclusive size trackpossesses seen medium size models front and center and, for the second year, hosting First Nations showcases, there is still a call among fashion merchants for all runways to feature models that are more representative of the people on the streets of Australia, not just in specific shows.

For Sadler, however, not all of these categories can be included under one umbrella for certain contexts. The need for wider representation of models on all catwalks and the division between the window displays of adaptive and ‘mainstream’ fashion brands themselves are two related issues – but for some practical aspects of the market they require more nuances than a comprehensive solution.

Adaptive fashion and inclusive fashion can still be universal fashion, and an example of this is Christina Stephens Leaf Back Shirts and Blouseswhich open completely at the back and are designed for clients with upper body mobility issues in mind.

“When we design a garment or a piece, we apply universal design principles wherever possible, which means we create a garment for our specific client, but we consider scale and who else might enjoy this product or garment outside of our immediate demographics,” Sadler told 9Honey Style.

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Jessie Sadler and Carol Taylor, Christina Stephens
Carol Taylor became lead designer and business partner of Jessie Sadler earlier this year. (Supplied/Christina Stevens)

“Caregivers would benefit from [the Leaf Back shirts] in terms of ease of dressing and injury prevention but I wear it all the time and don’t have any upper body mobility issues yet but it’s just a good quality sexy t shirt that I can wear with jeans.”

While “mainstream” brands should offer fashionable styles that appeal to everyone and have runways that reflect those universal offerings, Sadler stresses that there still needs to be a specific adaptive fashion market.

“For someone who lives with a catheter or a colostomy bag, of which there are many, many people, especially those who use wheelchairs, the design of those pants, that skirt, that dress has to be specific to this need”, she says as an example.

For Sadler, the adaptive fashion industry – while estimated to be worth $300 billion (about $432.6 billion) worldwide in 2021 and expected to grow 16% by 2024 – is still in in its infancy in Australia, and specific showcases like the Adaptive Clothing Collection Runway provide opportunities for large retailers to learn about what they too could distribute to customers.

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“Our customers need to be able to go shopping at Myer, David Jones, and have lunch with their girlfriends, their moms, touch stuff, smell stuff, try stuff on,” Sadler says. “They shouldn’t have to sit behind a computer and order clothes.”

Sadler also highlights the expense customers incur when having to return due to sizing issues, as well as the logistics involved in arranging the return, which could be avoided by going to the store.

“Ultimately, we want these leads to be mainstreamed and considered mainstream, but we’re at a very nascent stage in the lifecycle,” Sadler said.

“I think we need to shine a light on those categories that are emerging and not yet considered mainstream so that we can educate potential retailers, who learn and see what they need to know to be able to retail it.

“We have to start somewhere, and hopefully along the way I envision these categories would be tied into mainstream fashion, but that’s where we are today.”

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