Ever dreamed of pursuing your dream of being a fashion designer? Last issue (Feb/Mar 23) we caught up with Maria O’Sullivan-Abeyratne, founder of inclusive online retailer Adaptista

By Rosalind Tulloch

It’s January 2023, and I have just read that a scholarship competition from inclusive online retailer Adaptista and the British Academy of Fashion Design, has been launched to encourage disabled people to pursue an education in fashion.

My first thoughts are joyous, what a positive move to encourage disabled people to pursue their dreams of fashion design and hopefully help educate the fashion industry on the need for adapted clothing. However, I am also plagued by the question “why are we still having to fight for appropriate clothing for disabled people in the year 2023?”

These sentiments are echoed by Maria O’Sullivan-Abeyratne, founder of Adaptista, and the driving force behind the scholarship programme. Talking with Maria, you can hear the passion in her voice when she talks about affecting change in the fashion industry. She is a straight-talking Irish woman that steers clear of the limelight and shies away from press opportunities believing “that actions speak for themselves”. 

Maria doesn’t want to waste time talking about good intentions, she just wants to see things get done. This is the exact attitude that has seen her launch Adaptista with her husband John, and join forces with the British Academy for Fashion Design to launch this amazing scholarship programme worth £8,000.

Adaptista, is a small but vital marketplace for inclusive brands to showcase and sell their items. It is home to a wide array of brands specialising in functional yet stylish must have items, from clothing and jewellery to skincare and homewares, and it is a growing community.

Maria, who is disabled herself, recognised the need for a change in the fashion industry, following the struggle she had finding a wedding dress – a dress she subsequently changed out of halfway through the day to hit the dancefloor more comfortably. This experience sparked a need for action and following a return to studying fashion design, Maria has not only launched Adaptista and started a scholarship programme, she is also using her talents to revolutionise adaptive wear for disabled people with her own designs (patents pending) and make clothing more affordable too.

Positive Change
There is no doubt that there has been positive changes in the fashion industry over the last few years, as Maria agrees: “The amount of small adaptive brands I have seen come up is fantastic, and it’s great to see them thriving. And it’s great to see that they are producing quality items, which is so important.

“I get so many emails from students around the world asking me what they can do to make their collections more inclusive, so you know the want is there.” 

The fashion industry is slowly stepping out of its comfort zone to recognise that it must take a more inclusive approach, and not just by including models of different body shapes, abilities and race. There is an overwhelming need for disabled people to infiltrate the fashion industry at every level, to broaden the scope of people’s views of designing clothing that will be universally inclusive, and the benefits that this can bring across the board. 

Maria recognises that the lack of diversity within the fashion industry simply breeds a lack of understanding that there is actually a need for different designs and attitudes: “You can’t expect people to understand disability if they have never been disabled or been in the company of anyone disabled.”

Maria wants to see “disabled people in all facets of the workforce, from design, photographers, hair, make-up, 3D design, everything.” Then, and only then, will true change be affected, and this scholarship is an excellent stepping stone towards making that change. 

The Scholarship Competition
Launched by Adaptista and the British Academy of Fashion Design, the scholarship is worth £8,000 to study the Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Fashion Design, with the opportunity to progress to the Higher National Diploma (HND).

The scholarship competition is open to candidates who identify as disabled, as defined by the Equality Act 2010, you must be over 18 (there is no upper age limit) and be resident in the UK for the duration of the course. The competition will be judged by representatives of Adaptista, the British Academy of Fashion Design and another judge is to be announced. 

The scholarship is supported by Includability who will provide career mentoring as well as a one year membership to Microsoft 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud, and John Lewis City who will supply a beautiful new sewing machine to the successful applicant. In addition, Adaptista will also provide 100m of calico fabric, as well as a hamper of design and drawing tools. 

To apply, you must write a 500-word essay outlining why you are the perfect candidate, and a mood board to represent your creative vision for an outfit. Applications must be in by 31 March 2023.

Visit Adaptista.com/Pages/Scholarship-Competition to apply.

Image courtesy of Adaptista

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