Nothing Comes Between Stephanie Alves and her Adaptive Jeans

Photo of woman in wheelchair wearing ABL Denim

For 25 years, fashion designer, Stephanie Alves worked for large companies like Ann Taylor Loft and small companies like The Harari Collection.  She even owned a boutique in the East Village of New York City where she sold her own designs. Yet it was only after a family member endured two failed back surgeries and ended up using a wheelchair that she discovered her true calling.

“I went to visit my step-sister after the surgery and she told me that she didn’t even feel like getting dressed. It was just too hard,” recalls Alves. “So I said, ‘What if I just opened up the pants so they were easy to get on?’ After that, I started adapting clothing for other people with disabilities and I realized, ‘This is what I should be doing.’”  She started a business called the Able Tailor in 2010.

Over the next several years, Alves tailored clothes for customers with a range of disabilities, altering their clothing according to their individual needs. Finally, she felt she knew enough to design a line of adaptive clothing.

“I already had a small clothing line, so I knew about manufacturing and having my own design business.”

But Alves didn’t want to take on too much too fast.  ‘I’m going to focus on one clothing category,’” she said.  In order to determine what type of clothing she should offer, Alves asked her customers, ’what is the clothing you most miss wearing?’ Everyone said they most missed wearing [comfortable] jeans.” Alves founded ABL Denim with the help of a kickstarter campaign in 2013.

Designed for wheelchair users, ABL Denim’s jeans come in several styles, to suit diverse fashion tastes as well as the mobility and dexterity challenges of Alves’ customers. ABL Denim jeans, sweats and leggings are cut higher in the back than in the front so that they don’t creep down when the wearer is sitting. Additionally,  jeans for wheelchair users don’t have back pockets, since these can cause pressure sores for people sitting for long periods of time.  Some ABL Denim styles offer side zippers, elastic waists, draw strings and hook and bar waist closures to make dressing easier and wearing more comfortable.

About a year after she founded ABL Denim, Alves started to get requests for jeans from parents of children with autism, ADHD and sensory integration disorders. “I said, ‘I don’t know anything about designing for sensory issues. Tell me about it.’ I learned that some children have skin sensitivity and just can’t stand anything touching their skin. I found a child I could test the jeans on and I began designing “sensory jeans.”

ABL Denim’s sensory jeans are made of denim that’s so soft, it feels like a knit. The jeans’ elastic waistband and stitching is on the outside of the garment and won’t bother the child’s skin. For the same reason, there are no labels, zippers or inner pockets.  In addition to sensory jeans, Alves makes two types of shorts and denim leggings for children with sensory integration disorders.

The designer says that ABL Denim’s clothing line will soon expand to include other types of clothing such as professional attire.

Designers and retailers are finally catching on to the need for adaptive clothing,” says Alves, who is also cofounder of the Inclusive Design & Fashion Collective, a “small group of companies who design, manufacture, sell, and advocate for accessible, fashionable clothing and accessories.” Alves couldn’t be happier to be part of this new and necessary fashion trend.

“I can’t tell you  how gratifying it is when someone calls and says, ‘ Thank you! I haven’t been able to wear jeans for five years or even 20 years until now!’

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