Gene Avenue: The First Sparks of Will & Well
Before Will & Well came about, there was Gene Avenue.
"This project is a make or break, are you sure you want to pursue it?" was one of the recurring feedback Elisa received when she proposed the idea as a student.
Function Meets Fashion
The project started with Elisa's fascination for function. Throughout her studies, she noticed that fashion has often sacrificed ease of wear and comfort for the sake of aesthetics. As she dug further into that notion, Elisa realised what the world of fashion considers a simple inconvenience to people is, in fact, a magnified obstacle to people with disabilities. Zippers that are difficult to reach becomes impossible to reach, and fabric that isn't breathable becomes the cause of sores and rashes.
Elisa's research on inclusive fashion led her to meet Yean Cheng, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair for travel. Elisa's conversations with her revealed that being on a wheelchair is not a disadvantage, but merely a different advantage. This became especially apparent when Elisa realised that Yean Cheng travelled much faster on average because the motorised wheelchair is her primary mode of travel.
Another critical insight from conversations with Yean Cheng is the value of aesthetics. There have been inclusive apparels created with function in mind that came before us. However, they missed the mark on aesthetics so much that Yean Cheng tries her best to avoid wearing them, defeating their intended purposes. At the end of the day, both function and fashion bring their fair share of value to the table. This was when Elisa realised she needed a new pair of eyes on the project. One that has a vision for aesthetics while she stayed grounded on functional solutions.
Enter Marcus. Marcus was researching on using kombucha (a fermented drink made from sweetened tea and a specific culture known as a SCOBY) as a fabric when Elisa partnered with him on the project. It was so fascinating that something you cultivate in your kitchen can be grown to become fabric! The kombucha fabric was textured, leathery and, like all-natural fabrics, also breathable. This was a key feature Elisa was looking for as wheelchair seats can become quite warm when people spend long durations sitting on them. Inspired by Marcus's kombucha fabric, Gene Avenue's collection adapted much of the same texture and patterns to recreate its organic structure.
The End of a Chapter
Gene Avenue seems so far in the past, but Elisa believes it was this project that gave her the courage to start and continue what she does with Will & Well. Gene Avenue was an exercise in pushing past doubts, and the encouragement she received from exhibiting the collection was the first sparks that brought Will & Well here today.
Photos by Marcus Li / @marcusbiscuit
Yean Cheng / @law_yc
Elisa / @elisa.shien