A designer from Wales has launched a new fashion brand in New York City dedicated to people with disabilities.
Lucy Jones, who is originally from Cardiff, has created a collection of wheelchair-attachable accessories which can be bought online.
She decided to set up the brand, called FFORA, in response to the lack of fashionable and innovative products available to the disability community.
The 27-year-old was inspired by her cousin Jake who has hemiplegic cerebral palsy and has trouble dressing himself independently.
“His goal, like most people, is to be in control and as independent as possible but some barriers to accessibility are at the fault of bad design and lack of awareness,” said Lucy, a former student of the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York.
“Some of his difficulties include tying up shoelaces, putting on gloves, socks and doing up buttons. While often he can do many of these things the time it takes is longer and will require patience. His experiences challenged me to reconsider the accessibility of my own creations.
“I surveyed the marketplace and realised that the disabled community was vastly under-represented [in fashion], which galvanised the mission of FFORA: designing with disability first and not as an afterthought.”
FFORA’s first collection, The Essentials Suite, is comprised of fashionable and functional lifestyle accessories for manual wheelchair users.
It includes a wheelchair-attachable dock, a unisex leather bag offered in two sizes, and a cup holder – all designed for easy installation and effortless use.
“After working with numerous wheelchair users we quickly realised that there was a vast need for wheelchair users to have more control over their personal valuables when on the go and carry their belongings more efficiently,” she said.
“The disabled community often have to modify or alter products and their surroundings so that they are more convenient but in terms of accessories people were hacking existing bags to make them fit on their chairs or tying extra straps so the bags wouldn’t fall off.
“People were stashing cash in their shoes, or sitting on phones and keys, and if they wanted to enjoy a hot drink they had to balance it on their chair or lap, one-handed wheel, or just forget it altogether.”
Lucy said her product range, which took two years to get to the launch stage, is compatible with 21 different manual wheelchair brands.
“One of the major asks from the disability community has been to make products that are not only functional and easy to use but desirable and stylish as well,” she added.
“We talk a lot about inclusion and diversity but for too long people who have disabilities have had to ‘make do’ or invent their own solutions because not all products are designed for them in mind.
“We believe that everybody deserves to see themselves reflected in the products that they use every day.”
Lucy said wheelchair users often have to tailor or modify their clothes so they not only fit more comfortably but also drape and fall in an aesthetically-pleasing way.
“In general we can lose up to three inches on our torso when we sit down due to our slouch so most tops need to be cropped,” said Lucy, who has also designed clothing for disabled people.
“In traditional garment design we usually start with the body in a standing form. Our argument was that the body is completely different when it’s seated.
“The entire body gets squished – we have more fat and muscle around our stomachs, thighs, buttocks and, because our pelvis swings forward, the fabric tightens around the kneecaps and suddenly we are revealing our ankles.
“People who are seated for prolonged hours usually look for stretchy clothes. When you think about it what’s the use in back pockets with rivets? Those bulky seams and rivets could potentially cause skin breakdown and be harmful and uncomfortable for the wearer.
“Other things like zippers, buttons clasps, can all be pretty difficult for people who have limited motor skills.”
The former Radyr Comprehensive School pupil, who first went to NYC to study at the age of 19, said she has a “love hate relationship” with Big Apple.
“It’s been a rollercoaster and at times it’s often felt like survival of the fittest,” she said.
“But there is just so much opportunity here, the work ethic is phenomenal and the days just feel so much longer, probably because of the caffeine and bright lights. It’s the city that doesn’t sleep, that’s for sure.
“I’ve just kept my head down and worked really hard since I arrived. The tuition is very expensive in the USA and so I was on the lookout for scholarships which were often granted on the basis of merit.
“I applied to many and in doing so these competitions often meant you had to speak in front of large audiences. I genuinely believe all of these trials prepared me to gain more confidence.
“Everything was nerve-wracking but it made me grow as a person and as a designer. To be able to communicate about your work is incredibly important. New York homes some of the world’s greatest visionaries and companies.
“These opportunities were often prestigious. Some of the top fashion leaders and designers were listening to me speak and getting to know my work.”
When graduating from Parsons School of Design Lucy was crowned womenswear designer of the year and honored by American fashion designer Marc Jacobs.
At the same time she was also given an Empowering Imagination award by Kering, the parent company of Gucci, Balenciaga and Alexander Wang.
And to top it all off she was named to the Forbes list 30 Under 30 in 2016 for the Arts and Style category and invited to the White House by former President Barack Obama.
“I think my parents and family are very proud,” she added.
“They are my comfort blankets and they help me through some difficult decisions I have to make but so many random things happen all the time so quite often it doesn’t feel real, which is why I don’t often think about or talk about it. It’s all a bit of a blur.”