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Paralysed woman funds Fashion Week collection for wheelchair users

LFW show

‘I don’t want people to look at me and think I don’t care about my appearance.’ (Picture: Alessandro Lucioni)

A mum-of-two who was paralysed from the neck down has funded a unique collection of adaptive wear for her first London Fashion Week catwalk show this weekend.

Faduma Farah suffered a near-fatal case of meningitis in 2011, which rendered her paralysed from the neck down at 34 years old. 

She has since managed to regain control of her neck, upper body, and arm muscles, and hopes to recover further.

Now, she has founded a fellowship for fashion designers to create adaptive-wear after becoming frustrated by the lack of clothing available to her as a wheelchair user. 

‘You have to deal with this “new you”,’ says Faduma.

‘Everything has changed, from your movement to your body shape – you don’t feel good at all, you feel lost. Everything becomes a big hurdle – from travel, to the inability to work, to being housebound – and now you have nothing to wear.

‘I found myself asking, “is this me now? Will I always be wearing men’s t-shirts and trousers?”.

LFW show

‘At the very least, safe, comfortable, fashionable clothes should not be impossible to access.’ (Picture: Alessandro Lucioni)
The collection features design innovations including magnetic buttons, relocated pockets, breathable fabric and hidden seams. (Picture: Alessandro Lucioni)

‘At the very least, safe, comfortable, fashionable clothes should not be impossible to access.’

It can be very difficult for wheelchair users to find something appropriate to wear. 

Material needs to be breathable and seams often have to be adapted, as otherwise can lead to discomfort or even actual physical harm. 

Faduma once had to be on bed rest for five weeks just to recover from wearing an item of clothing that caused sores on her body. 

‘I don’t want people to look at me and think I don’t care about my appearance. I want people to see a woman who cares about herself,’ she adds.

‘As wheelchair users we have a lot of hurdles in life and dressing up shouldn’t be one of them. I’d like every designer out there to think about the person in the wheelchair – don’t forget about us.’ 

‘This is a journey. Today we opened a door. Hopefully there will be many more designers out there thinking about designing for people in wheelchairs in future.’

The fellowship launched the first ever collection for wheelchair users at London Fashion Week at a show produced by OFS which has helped more than 700 designers to launch collections across the UK, US and Europe producing 10 seasons of international shows across New York, London, Milan and Paris.

(Picture: Alessandro Lucioni)

There are 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK, and yet the availability of wheelchair user friendly fashion is often overlooked.

By comparison, maternity wear is an established category of clothing, despite there being only around 839,000 pregnant women in the UK (2018 ONS figures). The population of wheelchair users is more than 40% bigger and far less temporary.

In Britain, 18% of working age people are defined as disabled by the Equality Act 2010. Only 17% of disabled people are born disabled. 

‘I’d like every designer out there to think about the person in the wheelchair – don’t forget about us.’  (Picture: Alessandro Lucioni)

Faduma’s Fellowship was founded in April 2021 to provide an opportunity for a gifted fashion designer to work in partnership with Faduma, to create and bring to life a fashion collection with wheelchair users at its heart. 

More than 20 designers applied to the Fellowship. The final winner was announced as Harriet Eccleston from Derbyshire, a graduate of Northumbria University and a former pattern cutter at Paul Smith.

One of the first actions Faduma and Harriet took together was to examine a range of fabrics to find out what might be suitable. 

Their first adaptive-wear line was showcased for the first time on Sunday 19 September during London Fashion Week.

The collection features design innovations including magnetic buttons, relocated pockets, breathable fabric and hidden seams. The show will feature twelve looks, including six models who use a wheelchair. 

Harriet says: ‘Three months ago I had very little awareness of what adaptive clothing was.

‘The more I am learning and experiencing, the more I see how important this work is. I am delighted to be working with Faduma to spark change to ensure that everybody can wear the clothes that they love.’

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