Lucy Brown speaks to Victoria Jenkins, the founder of adaptive fashion brand Unhidden, about inclusivity, accessibility, and breaking down barriers in mainstream fashion.
Adaptive fashion involves designs that cater to the needs and abilities of people with various levels of disability. This can range from additional zippers to wrap-style designs for easy access. Victoria Jenkins, who became disabled herself in her 20s and living with a number of gastrointestinal and pain related conditions, created adaptive brand Unhidden in 2016 and released her first collection in 2020. As a fashion veteran herself, having previously worked with the likes of Victoria Beckham and Jack Wills, she creates her sustainable designs using deadstock cloth and offers customers the option to make specific alterations to help benefit them even further.
“My biggest goal is to make Unhidden a truly universally, design-led global brand,” she says, “creating both opportunity and education for all marginalised groups with as little environmental impact as possible. ”
The brand is about more than just stylish, inclusive, and ethical fashion; it’s also about creating equity for the disabled and chronic sick community. With trousers that are specifically designed for people in wheelchairs, offering a longer back rise, removed excess from behind the knee, and zip entry at each side, Unhidden does just that. They also offer a double-layered dress with a keyhole access detail and an internal band across the stomach, making the clothing easier for those with a variety of health conditions. “Through positive representation, my hope is for fashion to be a part of the shift towards equity and meaningful, lasting inclusion of every body,” Victoria says.
The market for adaptive fashion is high, with the UK’s disabled community worth £247 billion annually. However, there are very few designers out there creating these adaptive pieces. In fact, there are currently more clothing ranges for dogs than there are for people with disabilities, putting into perspective the severity of the situation.
Looking back at the history of adaptive fashion, American designer Helen Cookman seems to be the earliest pioneer for adaptive designs. She created a sample collection titled Functional Fashions in 1959 consisting of 17 items made to make dressing easier for disabled people. The collection featured Velcro fastenings, zippers, and double layered fabrics. These modifications became increasingly useful for injured or disabled soldiers who had returned from World War II. Sadly, Helen died in 1973 before she could secure a mass-market distribution deal, leaving behind little remnants as many of the clothes were lost or archived.
Last November, Unhidden became the first adaptive and disabled-owned brand to become a member of the British Fashion Council (BFC), something that Victoria is extremely proud of but also acknowledges that there is still a long way to go in the fashion industry when it comes to inclusivity.
“Joining the British Fashion Council wasn’t part of my plan or something that I thought could happen for me until last year. I think the reason it’s taken this long for an adaptive brand to become a member is that there simply aren’t any other designers or brands that have the eligibility to join under the adaptive design flag, there just aren’t any other UK designers meeting the requirements yet,” Victoria says.
Now a member of the BFC, Unhidden debuted their collection at LFW on the February 20th for the first time on their official schedule. The show took place at Istituto Marangoni, London School of Fashion and Design, a full circle moment for Victoria who studied fashion design there back in 2008.
To keep in line with Unhidden’s goals of sustainability and accessibility, the show was a hybrid of a traditional catwalk show with a digital presentation and a Q&A session.
Unhidden also became the first adaptive brand to have retail space in multiple locations after partnering with retail start-up Sook. Having had spaces on Oxford Street and The Grafton in Cambridge, this is just the start of Victoria’s dream to bring accessible, adaptive fashion to the high street. “In the shorter term, the goal is collaborating with high street retailers so that universal design becomes more accessible in terms of price point,” she says.
As Victoria isn’t currently at the price point she had hoped to be at, she plans to create workshops showing people how to adapt their existing clothing to help fit their needs and save their wardrobe in the hopes of making adaptive fashion accessible for all. As well as this, Victoria is also working on an adaptive alteration service that utilises the skills of disabled and chronically sick machinists.
Looking to the future, Victoria can only hope that more brands, particularly high street retailers, branch out into making adaptive and inclusive designs, pushing it to the forefront of mainstream fashion. “The knowledge, the tech, and the accessibility consultants and designers are all there, ready to help brands meaningfully engage with this demographic,” she says.
It isn’t just the consumers that benefit from making brands more accessible, it’s also in the brands’ best interests. Victoria says,
“It makes better business sense and makes businesses more profitable to be inclusive, so it blows my mind that it’s taking so long for change”
Victoria believes that “the industry needs to not only represent us but bring us into the room; from education to hiring practise, content creation to marketing – we cannot be what we don’t see.”