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ABL Denim Envisions Adaptive Apparel That Everyone Can Wear

When does apparel become wearable for all? ABL Denim is working to make fashion a more inclusive landscape with its adaptive apparel, including jeans.

Launched by fashion designer Stephanie Alves in 2013, ABL Denim is an inclusive brand that provides apparel solutions for consumers with disabilities. Alves, whose resume includes stints at Ann Taylor Loft and Limited Too, was inspired to establish ABL Denim following a family members’ struggle to find adaptive and stylish apparel in the current market.

“My stepsister’s back surgery resulted in her becoming a wheelchair user was the impetus for making this line. There were no fashionable jeans to be found, only clothing for seniors,” Alves said. “With my background in clothing design, garment construction and lifelong ties to the disability community, I knew enough of the needs to ask the right questions and get started.”

Four years later, Alves grew ABL Denim from a Kickstarter campaign to a full-fledged adaptive apparel label for men, women and children. Today, the brand’s garments, which retail from $32 to $109, provide a myriad of clothing solutions for consumers with sensory sensitivity needs, including denim, leggings, shorts, jeans and sweatpants.

Each ABL Denim garment is designed with adaptive features, including sliding trouser hooks, alternative seaming, mock seams, zippers with pulls and strategically placed pockets. For select jean styles, including the A-Jean and WCH Jean, ABL Denim takes personalization a step further by letting consumers customize their own inseams. The brand’s core denim fabric is a 10-ounce stretch denim from Cone, which provides consumers with optimal comfort.

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“If you understand how to construct this type of clothing, you have a dedicated customer. They need clothes that function whether they have dexterity limitations, if they use catheters, that are easy to get on and off, are comfortable and non-harmful to their skin. Some people are paralyzed and are susceptible to skin breakdown,” Alves said. “Their clothing has to enable greater independence but the bottom line? They want their clothes to make them feel good about the way they look.”

Rivet caught up with Alves to discuss ABL Denim’s mission to design apparel for all consumers and what it’s really going to take for fashion to become a more inclusive landscape.

Rivet: How does ABL Denim fill a gap in the current denim market?

Stephanie Alves: We are shifting the conversation from disability to design. This is a grossly underserved, growing, global market. Disability comes in various degrees and functionality in design can be addressed with knowledge of medical conditions and garment construction. This brand is unique as its products have so much functionality. It’s the reason we exist.

Rivet: What’s new for Fall ’18?

SA: Slimmer pants that are even more accessible in reaction to customer discovery. We just have to make sure they accommodate some medical accessories. As we grow and add styles we can add styles that have a narrower focus. We like the laser print trend, not just for environmental conservation but fewer chemicals against the skin is relevant to many of our customers. I like the trend of shine for women and plaid prints for men, but very subtle, very washed down. Previously, we did not follow trends such as ripped jeans and raw hems in the effort to find our customer. I believe in going narrow and deep especially when exploring new markets. We are ready to branch out.

Rivet: Is there a main theme or source of inspiration for the fall line and how is that reflected in the collection?

SA: Workwear is a big influence but with a bit of chic added to keep it clean. I follow the forward lines I like for myself, e.g. Kapital. [The] color block and toned down version of Sashiko quilting I’ve seen at Kapital is a natural for us due to its protective qualities. Since functionality is  our thing, we always do zippers with a lasso pull but since they’re trending, we can now simply expose them instead of hiding them.

Rivet: What’s your sourcing and manufacturing strategy like?

SA: Manufacturing in small quantities is our No. 1 challenge. Production was in Los Angeles, where we are based, then El Paso, Texas, which was not ideal. We have finally connected with reliable production overseas.

Rivet: What other ways can fashion help your customer base?

SA: We’re working on a wearable tech item that calms anxiety in children with sensory-related problems due to autism. It’s a newer technology that can be worn in one of our styles. It has also been tested positively on veterans at the VA in Palo Alto, Calif. [It is] something we are very excited about.

Rivet: Who are your competitors?

SA: It’s so new. We were the first fashionable adaptive denim line; the others were missy or senior market focused. We were the first to make an authentic sensory jean for kids. Finally, now there are players emerging. This market is finally being recognized because big companies such as Zappos Adaptive, Tommy Hilfiger/Runway of Dreams and Target are paying attention and are often bringing the few adaptive designers in this field on board to guide them.

Rivet: What’s your overall prediction for the denim market in 2018?

SA: This is a rapidly changing consumer landscape. Denim brands will learn from brands like mine that customers will see the tide has turned and begin to assume the fashion industry has them in mind. Businesses that don’t recognize this expanded, addressable market could be left in the dust.