Turn towards accessibility creates one-of-a-kind clothing

Collaboration creates skirt that fits like no other

| Author: Eric Baerren | Media Contact: Aaron Mills

Finding clothing that fits is a challenge for Gaia Herrick, especially when it comes to bottoms.

Herrick was diagnosed early in her life with Muscular Dystrophy, which causes a person’s muscles to waste away. It’s made it difficult for her to dress herself comfortably. Because of the way her body sits, the fabric digs into her skin, and it can ride high in the back and low in the front.

Thanks to Cassidy Marshall and Threads Fashion, she now has a skirt that fits perfectly. Marshall designed a garment in one of her clothing collections specifically for Herrick as part of Threads Fashion Show, a fashion show that is the culmination of a year’s worth of work.

“It’s the first and probably only skirt I’ve felt comfortable in,” said Herrick, who graduated in May. Herrick can walk short distances but used a wheelchair for most trips on campus after her first year.

This year’s Threads Fashion Show put a spotlight on adaptive wear, which is clothing designed for people who face challenges in dressing themselves. Herrick was one of 10 adaptive wear models in this year’s show.

The concept of inviting models who need adaptive clothing was introduced last summer. The fashion show’s three student producers – Marshall, Lauren Bark and Sydney Theiler – agreed quickly to incorporate it into this year’s show.

They also decided on a location – Finch Fieldhouse – and a theme, Cosmic Odyssey. The producers wanted to give the student fashion designers an opportunity – some of whom aren’t fashion students – to show off their creativity.

“It’s cool to see the talent we have,” Theiler said.

Marshall said she wanted her collection to send a positive message about the future at a time when she said she thinks people are negative about it. She mapped out a concept that would blend space and positivity, which allowed her to start sketching clothing designs and develop an idea of what kind of models she’d need.

A woman in a wheelchair is pushed down the runway during the Threads Fashion Show.
Gaia Herrick is escorted down the runway during the Threads Fashion Show in April.

Herrick was one of 109 models, one of the largest groups in recent years, Marshall said. The models first provided measurements and pictures to provide designers with an idea of who could help them bring their visions to life.

In the beginning, Herrick said that Cassidy told her that whatever clothing Herrick modeled was hers. It was the start of a partnership that strengthened as they worked together on the skirt and an accompanying corset.

Throughout the design process, 13 students working on their capstone project in the Disability Studies and Community Inclusion minor assisted the designers and the producers.

“They supported the (Fashion Merchandising and Design) students throughout the project sharing information about disability stereotypes, person-first and identity-first language, and more,” said JoDell Heroux, a faculty member in the Teacher and Special Education department. “They supported the designers and the models through the interviews, fittings, rehearsals, and the show.”

 The collaboration with the disability studies students did more than fulfill requirements for a degree, it created a different kind of experience for designers.

Cassidy said that they helped create an experience that changed her perspective on modeling.

Some of that was rooted in her work with Herrick, who brought her own skills to the table.

One of Herrick’s passions is sewing clothing, so she knew the lingo. When Marshall talked about the next steps with fabric, Herrick knew what she meant. She actively participated in the design and construction of the two pieces.

The second piece was a corset. Typically, those lace up the back, Marshall said. After talking it through, they decided that lacing it up on the front offered accessibility without detracting from how it looked.

“It’s magical,” Herrick said. “I’ve never seen a garment like it.”

She got to show it off at the April 15 show in Finch Fieldhouse. Rather than use an elevated runway, they used the floor.

Herrick was pushed down the runway. When she got to the middle, she stood up from her wheelchair, showed off the skirt and corset, and sat down with a smile on her face.

Marshall’s collection won the Viewer’s Choice award for designers. Herrick won an award as one of the year’s top models.

The experience was reward enough. Herrick said that modeling was an incredible experience. Everyone was kind and supportive. Between Marshall and the diversity studies students, she never felt left out. As someone with a disability, she said she never knows how people will react.

Marshall said that working with Herrick was the best experience she’s had in designing clothing. The give-and-take of working together produced a much better garment.
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