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Making fashion functional

The term ‘functional fashion’ gives the impression of clothing for those who participate in extreme sports, or clothing with an excess of pockets. However, functional fashion encompasses a range of clothing that can be broadly classified into four groups based on their areas of functionality:


  • This includes functional garments that can provide the wearer protection from one or more hazards. These can include protection against mechanical impact, physical injury (cuts, bites, perforation and abrasion), drowning, heat/fire, extreme cold, rain, electric shock, radiation, invisibility and dangerous substances and infective agents.

  • Functional garments in this section are used to enhance the functionality of sportspersons by providing a high level of breathability, moisture/vapor transfer, heat insulation, wind-proofing, water-proofing, and/or UV protection depending upon the sport and environment requirements.

  • This section includes functionalities like absorbency, air permeability and durability based on the wearer and requirements. It includes functional garments used for healthcare or hygiene, surgical clothing, therapeutic clothing and intelligent functional clothing.

  • These functional garments are used to improve the quality or ease of life for people with disabilities or special needs, like wheelchair users, paraplegics, arthritis sufferers, people with restricted movement or stroke victims. These garments are mostly made-to-measure to ensure individual need fulfillment and comfort for the wearer.

For this article, we are most interested in the bottom bullet point –  clothing for special needs.

A 1992-1993 Health Survey showed that 86% of people 75 years and over had some type of disability or long term impairment (diagnosed as having lasted for over six months). As we already have explored (click here), just under half of all 65 years old and over had mobility impairment. How does the current fashion market look out for people who may have trouble getting dressed, or need extra features for specific needs?

For those thinking that it is not all that important to cater to this demographic, then you need to read up about the Silver Dollar. The Silver Economy in southwest Europe report finds that the market for silver economy is around €450 billion in Europe.  In France people aged 50+ hold almost half of the country’s purchasing power and the seniors’ market will provide 45% of total demand. Germany’s silver purchasing power is at €316 billion. In New Zealand, over 65s contributed $20.6 billion as consumers in 2016, rising to a projected $94 billion in 2061. The SUPA-NZ Silver Economy research report showed the value of the Bay of Plenty silver economy alone sat at $2.55b in 2016 and is set to rise to $6.92b by 2031 and $15.62b by 2061. That’s bigger than the region’s booming kiwifruit economy.

Those who are ignoring or not catering to this market are missing out!

Design is important

For functional fashion, design is particularly important. For those with specific needs, functional fashion is often a one-of-a-kind piece that fits the needs of the wearer. Figuring out what specific requirements are of the clothing and the end user is an important part of the design process. Functional fashion can make it easier for people to stay independent for longer. This is because these pieces of clothing should make it easier for people to get dressed and go about their day.

Functional clothing can also help someone feel more dignified. For example, for someone who is required to have a catheter bag, having pants specially designed where they have a pocket sewn internally where the bag could sit without anyone else knowing. For those caring for people, functional clothing can save you time. For example, having underwear designed with closures at the side will mean time saved helping people toilet and get dressed.

There are a number of retailers that sell functional fashion, if you cannot find something for your needs it might also be a good idea to get in touch with a local clothing alterations business who may be able to adapt clothes that you currently own to fulfill your needs.

The increasing availability of such clothing means that you do not have to give up your own style if you do require adapted clothing.

Information is important

As explored above, information is important for design. It is also important for people who are buying clothing. For suppliers of clothing who are not necessarily designed as ‘functional fashion’, simply including more information to help describe the product may help open their products up to a bigger market. Especially for those who are shopping online.

What type of fastening is used in clothing is important information to note, as is where it is located. For example, for someone who has arthritis in their hands, or other such conditions that impact hand mobility affect how people get dressed, fiddling with tricky closures and small buttons can make getting dressed a frustrating experience.

For someone who uses a wheelchair, information like the length of a garment when sitting is important. Having articles of clothing that do not not drape over wheels, or shirt sleeves that will not get caught up in the wheels is important to be able to keep mobile.

Providing more information is a simple way for fashion retailers to become more inclusive and appeal to a wider audience.

About Eve Williams

Eve Williams
Eve Williams is the Production and Social Media Administrator for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.

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