O’Sullivan-Abeyratne has ADHD and ankylosing spondylitis, a long-term inflammatory condition mainly affecting the spine. She got the idea for Adaptista in 2019 after she was faced with the tough reality of shopping for wedding dresses with limited mobility and little assistance in-store. “I didn’t want anyone else to face that,” she explains.
She enrolled at the British Academy of Fashion Design to study part-time while working as an executive assistant. As part of her market research for Adaptista, she surveyed mainstream brands to find products that were adaptive by accident, hoping to prove that the basis for accessible e-commerce already exists, it’s just a case of signposting it better, within an inclusive website. “We prioritise positive reinforcement,” she says. “We won’t shame brands into doing better.”
Some brands have released adaptive designs in limited quantities as a pilot, only for resellers to swoop in and outprice disabled customers, prompting a backlash. “There needs to be a better understanding of how to bring products to market in a way that is both financially viable and inclusive,” explains O’Sullivan-Abeyratne. “Brands need to move beyond the ‘us and them’ approach, which has led to tokenism. We built Adaptista as a fully accessible space, built and run by disabled people, so brands can showcase their products to an entire community that may never have considered them before.”
Adaptista is launching with 12 brands, but its founder has a list of over 5,000 potential labels to add. “Sadly, a lot of the potential brands closed down during the pandemic, because the spotlight was taken off inclusion,” says O’Sullivan-Abeyratne. “These tiny, disabled-led brands can’t be seen; that’s part of what we’re trying to change.”
Many of the brands were designed with specific conditions and needs in mind, but could be used much more widely. Free Form Style, from Barcelona, makes clothes for people with functional diversity, prompted by the founder struggling to find clothes for her brother after he suffered a stroke and started using a wheelchair. But features including full-length zippers, string pulls and elasticated waistbands make donning and doffing easier for any wearer (prices range from £25 for T-shirts to £85 for trousers). UK brand Davies & Daughter Silversmiths crafts pendants with braille lettering, rings to support hyperextended joints, and fidget rings to occupy people while stimming for self-soothing (£31-56). Elsewhere, BP3 Underwear’s absorbent knickers can hold between 10ml and 25ml of liquid, a discreet solution for incontinence and menstruation alike. And, Kohl Kreative’s motor disability support makeup brushes are certified vegan and cruelty-free by Peta, adding wider appeal.