Meet Unhidden, the new adaptive clothing brand created by Victoria Jenkins to offer disabled people classic, timeless pieces for stylish everyday living
The fashion industry is not well-known for its inclusive ethos, but it seems that the world is slowly starting to take notice of the fact that we do not live in a “one size fits all” society as more and more brands are considering adaptive ranges and creative independents are starting up to cater for the disabled community.
Victoria Jenkins is just one of the latest trailblazers to tackle the inequality of the fashion industry and provide the disabled community with what she describes as a “basic human right”. Her designs have been thoughtfully created for people living with a wide range of impairments and needs; from living with a stoma to catheter users, wheelchair users and individuals going through chemotherapy to those living with dexterity issues. The fastenings, openings and fabrics have all been chosen to create a functional, comfortable and stylish range.
We caught up with Victoria to find out more about her adaptive clothing brand, Unhidden.
What inspired you to start an adaptive fashion brand?
Despite studying fashion design and spending my entire career as a garment technologist, it wasn’t even my own journey in to disability that sparked Unhidden, it was a fellow patient in 2016.
She’d survived ovarian cancer but had a stoma, lines in her arm and was being fitted for one in her chest. She’d been through so much, and yet she still had to undress to access her body, or when the doctors – usually a team of them – came to see her. I started looking into it from my own hospital bed, and what I saw just wasn’t inspiring, and it wasn’t aimed at young people who were working. It took hold of me and I registered Unhidden in 2017, and quit my dream job at Victoria Beckham to work freelance and started developing and researching.
Due to my own health and energy levels I didn’t get very far, which is why lockdown has actually been a gift for me. I had the time and the energy given to me to push it forward.
Can you tell me more about the made-to-order format for customers?
This was a decision I made after having the first shoot. I thought this way I am not fronting costs for production, as that is literally thousands of pounds as well as a gamble, not everyone is going to buy every size and choosing which sizes to make is difficult. It was also a way to launch and test the waters, to see whether people even liked the designs.
Being sustainable in this way means my impact can really be measured and that is something I will commit to for life. I am currently crowdfunding to allow me to produce a small production run of some of the samples and pay for new design development. I then may have to consider pitching for investment which scares me but I believe in my mission.
How important was it for you to stay away from producing ‘fast fashion’, and how have you done this?
It was paramount. I could not in good conscious be a part of the problem. Fast fashion, climate change, they negatively impact marginalised communities first, and through my work as a freelancer I knew of multiple ways to lower my impact so I am dedicated to using them.
It means not over producing stock by either made-to-order or small runs, using dead stock fabric so I am only using up fabric and trims that have already been made, sadly this is not possible with magnets at this time, and being transparent at all times with my customers; showing where things have come from, who made it, all these details will become available on the website once I have a bit more funding to do this.
I am also trialling an adaptive alteration service so people can send their existing clothing to be upcycled into the adaptive wear they need. This keeps their well-loved pieces out of landfill and breathes new life in to them. I’ll also be filming a series of workshops in the next few months showing how to adapt your clothes. This will be available for free so that adaptive clothing is truly accessible for all. I don’t want money to be a barrier for people, I truly want to help.
As a small and ethical brand Unhidden is of course at a higher price point than mass produced fashion but this is the reality of what clothing should actually cost when you pay your entire supply chain properly and you are not mass producing. Our shirts cost just over £60 to make and thanks to my experience and the factory I work with, they are made to the highest standard with the best construction methods. I am safe in the knowledge that neither the planet nor people have been exploited to make this possible.
Can you provide information on the Kickstarter you have running?
The Kickstarter is running until 11 April at 5pm. There are a number of rewards and I have collaborated with some women-owned small businesses to bring supporters some gorgeous items! (This Kickstarter is now closed)
I am also releasing a book in hardback and eBook format (and I am looking at how to make it audible and in Braille too) called The Little Book of Ableism. It is designed to explain why certain words, phrases and behaviours are ableist, and how to change them so that you are a better ally to the community. There will also be a glossary of commonly used terms and slang that will be explained. We hit our modest target so quickly which was just amazing and now I am hoping to hit our stretch goals. This will also to allow me to hire a bit of help, running all of this solo is brilliant but also very tiring and until the day we see profit I need to free up my time so I can work on paid projects too.
What are the future plans Unhidden?
This year the focus is on getting the word out about what we are doing, we are at a Pop-up shop on Oxford Street, London on 20 May, and we have a space at The Essex Beauty Show in August which means people will see Unhidden in real life, on real people.
I want to expand the range as best I can to include outerwear and more fashion pieces.
My long-term goal is to see Unhidden in concessions in existing stores, as well as having a stand-alone store where the staff are medically trained, the changing rooms and layout fully accessible, and a luxury experience is offered to any and all customers when they step in.
We are also partnering with some other platforms which I have to keep under wraps for now, but it’s very exciting and it feels like real change is coming. Adaptive and inclusive design must become mainstream, it is a basic human right and it is also future proofing fashion. I truly hope bigger brands also wake up to this sooner rather than later.
Visit unhiddenclothing.com to find out more.
Article originally featured in the Apr/May 21 issue of PosAbility and on the cover.
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