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When was the last time you heard of someone muting their Twitter notifications because something good happened? By the evening of July 4, Chloe Ball-Hopkins had to silence the surge of incessant (but positive) pings that started around lunch time, when she posted the first photos of a rainbow-colored jumpsuit that she created in collaboration with Asos.
Ball-Hopkins uses a wheelchair, and after a bad experience at a rainy music festival, she worked with the Asos team to design a casual, waterproof jumpsuit that could be accessible to as many people as possible. The strong early response to the product points to a few gaping holes in the fashion industry. One, models with disabilities aren’t often hired by major brands. (Ball-Hopkins, a reporter for BBC Bristol and an athlete with her sights on the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo, appears on Asos’s website.) And two, most of those companies don’t design for people of diverse abilities. Indeed, it’s Asos’s first time doing so.
The jumpsuit started coming to life in the summer of 2017, after Ball-Hopkins attended Splendour Festival in Nottingham, England. When the weather turned, her options weren’t great: She could wear a plastic poncho that was difficult to wheel in, or carry an umbrella and have a friend push her. Ball-Hopkins was adamant about making it through the entire show — the headliners were Kaiser Chiefs and Busted, and she was a Busted fangirl growing up — but had to call it quits before the end of the final set.
“After that, I was like, this has to change,” she says over the phone.
Ball-Hopkins considered contacting a seamstress and commissioning a one-off outfit for herself, but, deciding to think bigger, contacted retailers who she thought could do accessible fashion well. Asos got back to her, and by September she was talking to its design team. After a few visits to its London studio during the winter, she returned to look at final prototypes in May.
As Ball-Hopkins notes during our phone call, the functional details she recommended to Asos’s team aren’t hard to achieve. Brands just need to sit down with someone like her and take their advice into consideration.
The colorful, speckled jumpsuit has a zipper around the waist that separates it into a jacket and trousers to make dressing easier, and the top has a zip running up the middle because that’s simpler to get on and off than a pullover. The ankles have adjustable cuffs for people of shorter stature (or who want to wear the jumpsuit with, as Ball-Hopkins calls them, “wellies”), and the whole outfit is lined with jersey for added comfort.
When Ball-Hopkins runs me through the jumpsuit’s specs, she emphasizes its utility for people without disabilities, too. The hood has an elastic cord that prevents it from falling down when people who use wheelchairs are looking up, but that’s also helpful for people who like to jump around during concerts and sports matches. The suit’s top pocket is waterproofed for phone safety, which, obviously, is crucial for pretty much everybody.
“I could wear it and you could wear it,” Ball-Hopkins says. “It’s not about making fashion for people with disabilities, it’s about people making fashion for everybody but having people like me in mind during the process.”
Fashion brands that create clothing specifically for people with disabilities are also few and far between. In 2016 and 2017, Tommy Hilfiger launched adaptive lines for children and adults, respectively, which feature details like Velcro and magnetic closures. In doing so, it stood out starkly against its competitors.
Of course, this is just one jumpsuit from a massive fast fashion brand that pumps out new styles constantly, so it will be key to see where Asos goes from here. Ball-Hopkins, for her part, is looking to see if similar opportunities come her way in the next few weeks.
“If not, I’ll go out and find them,” she says.