Fashion & Beauty Spoonie Stories

Wheelchair-Friendly Clothing can be Functional and Fashionable

Para-athlete Chloe Ball-Hopkins changed the face of accessible fashion when she collaborated with retail giant, ASOS, to create a wheelchair-friendly jumpsuit.

It’s the dream of millions of women to design something for a fashion brand. How did the opportunity to collaborate with ASOS come about?

It actually came from me just emailing them! I went to a festival and ending up wet and cold!

In an attempt to keep dry after a downpour, my boyfriend found a plastic sheet to wrap me in and a golf umbrella. Yes, I was dry but I certainly didn’t look good. I thought at that moment I would do something about wheelchair fashion. There were other young wheelchair users there looking the same and looking unhappy about it. So I came up with the idea for the jumpsuit and sent a few emails. The rest is history as they say – I got lucky!

Have you always had an interest in fashion and design?

I have never really followed any trends or set fashion I must admit. I just wear what I like and what I think suits me.

Over the years though I have thought about how fashion trends really don’t work for people who use a wheelchair. But for years it was just a thought. Until now that is and now I am definitely interested in it; especially how to make it accessible.

What is the main challenge for you when it comes to buying clothes?

I think the main challenge is the lack of access to clothing. Not necessarily mean the garments themselves but the shops and websites selling the clothes. I actually think there are a lot of items of clothing that are suitable for wheelchair users by chance. But we just don’t know it’s there.

When it comes to shopping, 9 times out of 10, I can’t reach the clothes, because they’re too high for me. I am always relying on asking for help or having to have someone come with me.

Then there’s an issue with the disabled changing room being used as storage and so on. I do a lot of shopping online now. Then I can try it on at home and send it back if I need to.

What was the design process with ASOS like and how long did it take to see it go from paper to prototype?

I would say it was just under a year from me sending the initial email to seeing the jumpsuit for sale on the ASOS website. I couldn’t believe how quickly it actually happened!

How much input did you have in the final design?

I had a lot more input than I thought I would. I went up to the ASOS HQ in London numerous times to meet with the designers and other teams, to make sure it was being made exactly how I envisaged it. They made sure it was made the way it should be which was refreshing to see.

asos wheelchair friendly jumpsuit

Where did you look to get inspiration?

In honestly the inspiration purely came from me being a young woman who likes to look good in the clothes she wears. For the jumpsuit specifically, I knew what I needed and when I found it wasn’t available anywhere, I came up with it myself. I think I have always been the creative type so it all came to be easily.

How is the jumpsuit adapted to be wheelchair-friendly?

The key thing I like to remind people is that it was only subtle changes to the jumpsuit to make it suitable for people in a wheelchair. There isn’t really a lot that needs adapting which is why I find it so hard to see why there isn’t more suitable clothing.

There is a zip around the waist to make it easier for getting in and out of the (also practical for going to the little girls room!) This means you can wear it as bottoms and jacket alone too. The sleeves and ankles are elasticated to allow for people with shorter arms or legs.

There is a jersey lining to make it more comfortable to wear. The left breast pocket is completely waterproof. So you can keep anything from your phone to important medical details safe and dry.

What was the photoshoot like? It looks like there was a lot of glitter!

The shoot was amazing! They treated me like any other model which was nice. There wasn’t any special treatment, which is how I wanted it to be.

The girl who modelled with me was experienced and so lovely; she really made me feel at ease. After lunch they gave me a chance to look at the pictures and pick which ones I liked best!

wheelchair friendly fashion ASOS


What advice would you give to someone looking to collaborate with a fashion retailer?

I know it’s a cliche saying but you don’t know if you don’t ask! If you really think your idea is worth someone listening to, then keep persevering with those emails and phone calls. Eventually the right person will listen and it will be worth it!

What’s next for you, do you have any more fashion design plans lined up or maybe something else?

Without giving too much away yes I am looking at doing more clothing but with who I can’t say yet. All I can really say is watch this space!

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