Designing functional clothes for the differently abled | Youth.SG

Designing functional clothes for the differently abled | Youth.SG

Will & Well founder Elisa Lim designs inclusive yet easy-to-wear clothes for people with disabilities.

It took Elisa Lim five years of research about designing clothes for people with special needs and disabilities before she started her inclusive fashion brand, Will & Well.

She was approached by a doctor to design clothes for his patients. As part of her final-year project in school, Elisa spoke to people with disabilities and found out more about their circumstances. The 26-year-old revealed: "It was eye-opening for me. As I visited patients in hospitals, I started to understand the challenges people with disabilities faced [with finding suitable clothes]."

In 2017, Elisa started Will & Well alone, shortly after graduating from her fashion design course at LASALLE College of the Arts. The start of her fashion journey, however, came with challenges. Although Will & Well designs clothes for people with disabilities, their modern and easy-to-wear designs have attracted other shoppers looking for functional fashion.

"I initially feared that my business would not work out as the market was small. I used to design and produce the apparels all by myself and I had a 'sweatshop' at home. Now, I have a tailor with me and she puts the clothing together," shared Elisa, with a grin.  

Will & Well designs modern and easy-to-wear pieces, such as the MagSnap cropped cape (pictured), that appeals to the common crowd.
Will & Well designs modern and easy-to-wear pieces, such as the MagSnap cropped cape (pictured), that appeals to the common crowd.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/CHEVONNE LAW

As I sat down with Elisa at her office in Alexandra Hospital's co-working space, the composed designer shared many fond memories about the clients she has interacted with over the past three years. 

"I had a client who is in Primary 1 this year. She doesn't have one arm, so dressing up was challenging for her. In school, she'll have to change into her PE attire and it will be a challenge for her to unbutton with one hand," Elisa said. After replacing the buttons on her uniforms with Will & Well's magnetic ones, which they named MagSnap, dressing up became easier for her young client.

The magnetic buttons, MagSnap, make dressing up easier and faster for the user.
The magnetic buttons, MagSnap, make dressing up easier and faster for the user.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/CHEVONNE LAW
Elisa usually comes up with the designs of her clothes after consultations with her clients.Thereafter, she shops for suitable fabrics and design functions that would be most suitable for them. 

"We co-design with our clients according to their desires and situations. We also try to understand the space they are in, as well as their caregivers'," explained Elisa.

The handles on Will & Well's drawstring pants help caregivers carry people who are immobile without causing them discomfort.
The handles on Will & Well's drawstring pants help caregivers carry people who are immobile without causing them discomfort.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/CHEVONNE LAW 
Elisa's passion did not stop at designing inclusive clothing. Recently, she launched Sew Simple, a workshop that teaches participants how to transform their wardrobes according to their desires.

Together with her tailor, participants learn how to alter and repurpose their own apparels. Although the Sew Simple workshop is only in its fifth month, they have seen great responses, from caregivers to people with disabilities.

"One of our participants was a lady who got into an accident and lost her functions from neck-down. She managed to learn how to sew at the workshop, which was empowering for her as she picked up a new skill with her hands," shared Elisa, with pride.

Elisa (third from right) with participants from her Sew Simple workshop.
Elisa (third from right) with participants from her Sew Simple workshop.
PHOTO CREDIT: WILL & WELL.
Besides running workshops, Elisa hopes to educate more people about the challenges people with disabilities face in their daily lives. At her pop-up events, she encourages shoppers to try dressing up while sitting on a wheelchair, which has worked effectively in increasing awareness about inclusive fashion.

"During the activity, many people couldn't button their clothes or put on their pants properly. They then realised how challenging it can be for people with disabilities to put on clothes," said Elisa.

Will & Well's booth at the Bayfront Pop-Up Market offered an interactive wheelchair activity to help users understand the struggles people with disabilities face.
Will & Well's booth at the Bayfront Pop-Up Market offered an interactive wheelchair activity to help users understand the struggles people with disabilities face.
PHOTO CREDIT: WILL & WELL
Designing inclusive yet functional clothes might still be a new concept in Singapore, but Elisa has found joy in creating new ideas for the fashion industry. Having improved the lives of those with disabilities as well as their caregivers, Elisa's hope for Will & Well is to continue reaching people in need of fashion solutions. 

"We're paving our own way, exploring industries we can bring impact to and that's really exciting," said Elisa. 

Original article published on Youth.SG, by Chevonne Law
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