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Fashion with a special focus – brunch feature


“When my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, it wasn’t only him who suffered, but my entire family. It’s been eye-opening to see how small changes to clothing can make such a difference to his life. And the ability to change someone’s life through my work gives me a profound sense of satisfaction,” says fashion designer Monika Dugar.

The 30-year-old London College of Fashion graduate has made it her aim to make fashion inclusive by making it functional for the specially-abled, and empowering them in the process.

Adaptive, why?

Clothing plays an important part of living well with Parkinson’s. “Parkinson’s disease is a motor disorder resulting from neuro-pathological changes affecting the control of voluntary motor movements. Restrictive clothes and fabrics can really affect the life of patients of Parkinson’s. They can exasperate or trigger the freeze response,” explains Monika.

“Parkinson’s also presents a variety of difficulties in dressing, but the more common problems are a result of issues with balance, tremors and finger dexterity. The lack of ability to fasten buttons because of tremors or muscle rigidity can be very frustrating. So when possible, one has to choose clothing that can be pulled over the head. This includes the all-important ‘look’ and ‘self-confidence’ factors alongside that of functionality, something which is currently missing from the market,” says the designer, who created an entire line for people with the disease.

Monika began researching the condition after her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s six years ago. “The hand tremors, stiffness and slow movement associated with Parkinson’s disease made the dressing routine pesky and difficult for him. I was at crossroads to explore fashion and adaptive clothing during my course at London College of Fashion. But it was a market that sits at the niche of the transformation, which motivated me to work on my line, Reset,” says Monika.

“There’s a need to raise awareness and make clothing more inclusive because design, print and colours can help the differently-abled to gain confidence, and allow them to feel independent and valued”

Plus, there were designers who inspired her to create adaptive clothing, especially for people with disabilities. These include Grace Jun, Christina Mallon, Sinéad Burke and Lucy Jones.

As part of her research, Monika also read Brain: A Journal of Neurology, where she learnt that when someone with Parkinson’s looks at certain patterns, it could improve their mobility through visual cues.  

“This reignited me to design the collection, which features patterns that could aid mobility in people with Parkinson’s,” she says.

She designed garments keeping in mind that they must be simple and easy to slip into, using Velcro instead of buttons, and magnet fastenings, as they relieve the stress from buttons and zips, and allow people with restricted mobility to dress by themselves. Then there are multiple pockets, positioned at different angles, to enable easy access for people with varying needs.

The garments are made in a way so they can be easily slipped into without having to struggle with buttons and zips

The garments are made in a way so they can be easily slipped into without having to struggle with buttons and zips

Monika has been nominated for the Parkinson’s UK Charity Show to raise money for the ailment’s research, and she’s exhibiting for a charity called The Cure Parkinson’s Trust along with 10 exclusively invited Britain-based fashion designers.

Currently, she’s sent her clothing samples to people across the healthcare industry to gauge the faults, so she can improve and customise it accordingly. Monika is also constantly experimenting, finding new methods and updating research, because not everyone has the same problems with dressing.

The back story

Her personal journey too has been full of surprises. Despite a finance background of eight years, Monika’s heart lay in fashion designing. “I would always flip through glossies and keep in touch with the latest trends. I also started experimenting with clothes at a very early age!” says Monika, who completed her schooling and college education in Jaipur.  

“I moved to Mumbai to work as a research analyst in a brokerage firm for three-and-a-half years. But I could not connect to the field of finance as it lacked creativity. I decided to make a career switch and joined the London College of Fashion, and did my internship at Mary Katrantzou and Paul Smith, where I learnt a lot from the basics to understanding my actual skill in fashion,” she smiles.

The concept and moodboard of Monika’s line of adaptive clothing, Reset, that comes with Velcro and magnets in place of buttons and zips, as well as  cross pockets for functional ease

The concept and moodboard of Monika’s line of adaptive clothing, Reset, that comes with Velcro and magnets in place of buttons and zips, as well as cross pockets for functional ease

As for her own dressing style, Monika likes experimenting but keeps it minimal. “I play with subtle contrasts and colour to a neutral colour palette,” she says.

Monika wants to create adaptive clothing for ageing and mobility-challenged people, and to do so, she plans to enter into retail alliances in the UK to begin with, and then launch across Europe and the US, followed by India next year.

“The paradigm is currently shifting and fashion that bore a stigma of disfigurement is becoming more inclusive. There’s a need to raise awareness and make clothing more inclusive because features, design, print and colours can help the differently-abled to gain confidence, and will allow them to feel more independent and highly valued,” says Monika.

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From HT Brunch, July 26, 2020

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