The Fabric of Independence: Weaving design and Healthcare

Some people look at a piece of fabric and see it for face value. To Open Style Lab’s Executive Director Grace Jun, a piece of fabric is much more — it’s accessibility. She noticed a gap in this area when it came to clothing for people with disabilities, which she found odd. For the 74% of Americans who will face a disability in their lifetime, she calls this “a barrier to greater independence.” Grace decided that in order to change the parochial landscape of the fashion industry, she would have to take matters into her own hands.

So, in 2014, she launched Open Style Lab, a company that aims to bridge the accessibility gap by utilizing partnerships with technology and fashion to create stylish, universal designs. To do this, each piece seamlessly integrates smart fabric and manipulated material. But the process begins far before fabric choice. The method to her madness begins at the core of her inspiration—the people who inspired her from the beginning. And the best place to do this? Programs like the OSL Summer Program.

At the OSL Summer Program, Grace brings in volunteers from across many industries, to bring their different lenses to clothing design. This even includes her own Parsons fashion students. From there, any person facing a disability in the community is welcome to come in and collaborate with a designer. Designers take each individual circumstance, such as mobility issues and find solutions through research development with partners in tech, fashion, and healthcare.

These partnerships are incredibly important to bring in donations in state of the art technology, sensory equipment, and fabric. But they’re essential because of the opportunity for education: to challenge the perceptions of human ability and body and to partner with people who have the ability to learn a different vocabulary.

In the end, each client is gifted with their own customized, versatile wearable that balances function with fashion. One example of this is when the mother of Eliza, a teenager living with Autism, came to Grace with stories of how her daughter continuously ripped apart the seams of all her clothing. Though a new challenge, Grace and her team found that by using ultrasonic welding, they could reconstruct the seams so they could no longer tear.

Though designs range on a case by case basis, Grace uses her learnings and applies them to a larger population. She hopes that her clothing can be distinguished from typical garments by being viewed as purposeful aesthetics. And the most valuable thing she wishes that her clients take away from the experience? Empowerment through self-dressing.