CREATING A DEMENTIA FRIENDLY ADAPTED CLOTHING BRAND!
How is a clothing brand, whose designs are adapted to be dementia friendly created in a Global Pandemic?
Well…Let me start with Happy New Year! What a year 2020 was! Before we look forward to 2021, I want to go back and explain how ROARINGLY PRECIOUS, a dementia friendly clothing brand that offers adapted easy clothing was created. I also want to give a shout out to the wonderfully creative women I worked with along the way.
My inspiration for ROARINGLY PRECIOUS came from personal experience with a loved one, someone I truly adored and loved who faced the challenges of vascular dementia. We had some mornings of great fun dressing, both in hysterics unable to believe the challenges of putting ‘clothes on tidy’. Other mornings held not so much laughter but great stress and agitation. We found some aspects of clothing so troublesome, I wanted to find a dementia friendly solution for my loved one and reduce the struggle of an everyday task. This inspired me to create and develop the clothing brand available to you today.
My degree in costume design and my years working as a seamstress provided me with the foundational skills I needed, so I started to gather design ideas and research. Throughout my research I learnt of so many areas of need but decided for my first adapted collection to focus on promoting independence, protecting dignity and create clothing designed to reduce agitation. I wanted to explore the idea of making a symmetrical garment fit a non-symmetrical body, allowing people with good mobility but compromised cognitive function to dress independently. I also wanted to explore simplifying traditional clothing construction and make fastenings easier so that those facing mobility challenges but good cognitive function would also find support in my adapted clothing. I thought about adaptations being built into the design of the pattern so that it would not feel like modified clothing, but be purpose made garments retaining style and choice, supporting peoples needs as they faced changing challenges. I sketched out different ideas, creating the designs I wanted in the collection.
Having been going through a time of personal ill health I needed to find a way to raise addition funding. I found a Back Her Business scheme with Natwest who promised to part match any funding I managed to raise with public pledges and ultimately, I was able to raise £3977. I could not believe it! Over 50 people pledged towards the crowdfunding which was amazing! It was amazing to see how many people thought it was a good idea and wanted to support it but also it meant that I received maximum match funding from Natwest.
Around this time the government announced a full lockdown, STAY HOME, STAY SAFE! I utilized this time and started developing the patterns of each adapted garment, starting by drafting block patterns, then amending to make my designs into fabric samples. I wanted an outside opinion to review my work as patterns are the foundations of all garments, and I wanted to make sure my foundations were strong so that the final product would be reliable and high quality. I worked with a mentor of mine, a pattern drafting genius, ‘Designer Jocelyn Banks’ and together we perfected and graded the garments into multiple sizes. Jocelyn (Designer Jocelyn Banks) is a hugely talented designer who makes bespoke garments for special occasions. Her creative flare partnered with her incredible skill and attention to detail make her the ideal woman to trust with a special garment.
Once the patterns were finished, I turned my attention to the materials and manufacturing. I faced an internal struggle, I needed to choose fabrics that were low maintenance and would withstand regular washing adding to the dementia friendly properties I was trying to create for the ROARINGLY PRECIOUS clothing but that were going to be gentle and breathable next to the skin. When trying to achieve these things I found myself between a rock and a hard place. Woven natural fabrics will crease often, natural knitted fabrics will shrink when washed regularly or in the wrong conditions. On the other hand, synthetic fabrics tend to not crease as much and can be washed at higher temperatures without shrinking but can be uncomfortable next to the skin. I decided a cotton synthetic mix would be the best as it would still be natural but would withstand washing and would require less ironing. I then started to finalise my fabric suppliers and materials, further educating myself on the questionable ethics of the textile and fashion industry, this opened a whole new can of worms. I was very naïve and ignorant to the extent of exploitation in the Fashion Industry. I struggled to find British wholesale suppliers offering certified fabrics whilst also being realistic about the price range I could work to when developing my first collection. I decided I would focus on finding British Suppliers that had oeko-tex certification, reassuring me that the fabric contained no harmful chemicals. For the 2021 collection, I will focus on finding ethically certified fabric suppliers. We want to be a company that creates adapted dementia friendly clothing to improve peoples quality of life, without threatening the quality of life of those that play a role in making the fabric.
As we headed into late summer I created final retail samples. Developing a clothing line is a very exciting experience but can be quite daunting especially when making garments with a purpose. I’m making a commitment to my customers that our dementia friendly garments offer their loved ones benefits they should invest in. I decided to seek the opinion of a product designer to build confidence, reassuring me my designs were fit for purpose and professional compared to others in the market. I worked with an amazingly talented consultant, co-founder of Thread Design, Rachel Tomlinson. Together we went over the functionality of garments, discussing how and why features would be supportive or lack functionality. Rachel is an incredibly smart and intelligent professional who along with her business partner has created a very successful Product Design Consultancy, Thread Design. She has a wonderfully creative mind and a brilliant capacity for problem solving.
Along with seeking Rachels advice I also decided to run a clothing trial with people living with dementia and those facing mobility challenges. I found several ladies who were happy to be part of the clothing trial and gave out a mixture of my adapted designs to each, in return they let me know the successes and potential weaknesses in my designs so that I could develop and improve them before launching the website. Through this process I learnt so much, I heard not only how my ideas and theories had become helpful to someone but I also what ideas weren’t effective. Everyone is individually affected by living with dementia or a disability. I have realised if I want my business to grow and develop I cannot be prideful, I take pride in what you do, I put my all into it and work to the best of my ability but if a customer turns around and says that doesn’t work for me, I must re-evaluate and evolve. My role is to produce garments that are going to fulfill a purpose for someone facing everyday challenges that I am not and so their voice is the important one to focus on.
In July/ August time, restrictions were slowly lifting and I needed to start thinking about marketing and a website. I’m a designer, I can design, make and develop an idea into a physical thing but I have learnt marketing is a whole new ball game. In my hour of need I turned to one more inspirational woman. Muna Noir, an incredibly talented fashion and commercial photographer who together with my family and friends managed to create socially distanced, beautiful and relaxed campaign photos for the website and branding. I was totally delighted, it wasn’t what I had quite dreamed of, I wanted a campaign full of people of different cultures, sizes and with different needs so that people would see I work for inclusivity but when starting a business you have limitations, I just felt incredibly blessed to have such generous volunteers to help me.
In October 2020 10 months after receiving my initial funding and 3 years after my initial idea of specifically designed clothing in my loved ones bedroom as we tackled a troublesome T-shirt, we launched the ROARINGLY PRECIOUS website which was a huge milestone in the project. It finally meant people could see everything I had been working on and could start to buy THE LITTLE HARRIS COLLECTION online.
ROARINGLY PRECIOUS has been a project that has helped me on a personal health recovery whilst being a labour of love, inspiration, and hope. I have researched, designed, drafted, created, tested, and refined. I thought about each garment and each adapted property making sure it would meet an individual’s need. I am so grateful for the women that have helped me along the way. Even with skills and ideas it isn’t easy and there is a lot to learn but I believe as I listen and adapt I can continue making ROARINGLY PRECIOUS the company I want it to be, a clothing brand that provides specifically designed quality clothing, made in an ethical way, which improves the quality of life of those living with dementia and other challenging conditions.
Happy New Year and let’s hope for a better 2021!
Until next time, Sara x
Designer Jocelyn Banks – www.jocelynbanksdesigner.co.uk
Rachel Tomlinson – www.thread-design.co.uk/
Muna Noir - www.munanoir.com/
Posted in What we've been up to! on 18th January 2021 at 8:22pm.