After President Biden’s inauguration, social media was abuzz about Vice President Kamala Harris’s step-daughter Ella Emhoff’s fashion ensemble. Turns out, Ella is a design student at New York City’s Parsons School of Design at the New School, where Assistant Professor Grace Jun teaches. Jun is also chief executive of the nonprofit Open Style Lab, an incubator for accessible clothing design.
Established at MIT in 2014, OSL “is dedicated to creating functional, wearable solutions for people of all abilities without compromising style.” The organization is made up of designers, occupational therapists and engineers who work in consultation with disabled individuals “to conceive and build accessible wearables that address the needs of and with people with disabilities.”
Among OSL’s most important offerings is the accessible design course it provides through its collaboration with Parsons School of Design. OSL Academy provides classes and experiential learning opportunities that teach students about disability, accessibility, adaptive fashion and universal design.
Students at OSL, “create wearable solutions that encompass style and functionality for the inclusion of people with disabilities (injury, aging included).” According to OSL’s website, past projects have included:
- A voice-amplifying wearable necklace created with a person with multiple sclerosis
- A rain jacket that fits into a backpack adapted for an electric wheelchair
- A wool coat that was custom shaped for posture with a person with cerebral palsy
- An inflatable vest for seated comfort for a person with a curved spine due to bone cancer
- Leggings for the seated body that has easy access to a catheter.
While some of OSL’s content is available only for matriculating students, other content such as OSL’s co-authored book “Universal Materiality: Wearable Interaction Design and Computer Aided Process for Accessible Wearable Solutions” is available to the public on the OSL website. Some of OSL’s DIY fashion hacks such as this one about creating pockets, can be seen on here on YouTube. A DIY accessible mask pattern created by Jun, is also available on the website. As Jun told the Washington Post, “Accessible design is better design.”
In addition to OSL’s partnership for undergraduate and graduate students at Parsons, the nonprofit has offered an award-winning summer program for teen girls with disabilities since 2019. The program’s inaugural season was co-sponsored with NYU Langone Medical Center’s Initiative for Women with Disabilities. Working with designers, OTs and engineers, the girls in the program, created the “Hack-Ability Kit, a DIY bundle that “includes a range of items that the disabled can use to modify their apparel, and focuses on two basic elements: pockets and loops,” according to Anna Zappia and Ben Spier of Metropolis magazine. At the same time, creating the Hack-Ability Kit helped participants improve their STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) skills.
The successful OSL summer program was offered again in 2020 when it was presented through a partnership with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Due to COVID-19, last summer’s program took place via zoom.
Mentorship opportunities are also available through OSL. Mentors — individuals who have disabilities that make dressing a challenge — work with students to help them understand their unique clothing needs. Through their interactions with mentors, students learn to design clothes that will make life easier (and more stylish) for their mentors and people with similar challenges.
OSL also works with corporations and design professionals interested in making their collections more accessible. They offer corporate training workshops; panel discussions and public programs; and conduct research about a range of topics pertaining to accessible design.
Since its inception, OSL has worked with corporations such as IKEA, Macy’s, Cooper Hewitt and Microsoft.
OSL welcomes people with ideas and questions, in addition to those seeking internships and mentoring opportunities, to visit their website at https://www.openstylelab.org/incubator/parsons-x-osl