Forward thinking fashion

7 November 2017

Many people with MS live by the motto “I may have MS but MS doesn’t have me” and are determined not to let the disease define them. But what if you find that your MS means you don’t feel comfortable in your own clothes any more, and can’t find anything practical you do like? Here we speak to Helen and Hannah Dunk who have launched a new fashion label for women in wheelchairs.

In the words of her daughter Hannah, Helen Dunk has always been an “uber glamourous lady.”

“Growing up, I’d see mum every morning do her make-up, do her hair, pull on her Levi jeans and put on her stilettos, and everyone used to say she looked like she was in an 80s band,” Hannah laughs.

But when Helen was diagnosed with secondary progressive MS back in 2000, and found herself having to use a wheelchair full-time, it became a challenge to find clothes that looked great, but also ticked the practical, comfy and wheelchair-friendly boxes too.

A lot of clothes from the high-street just weren’t suitable, and then when they tried specialist shops, they were disappointed to find that, more often than not, it was all rather boring. “I found it really upsetting that we could no longer find clothing that was going to fit well and work with mum’s wheelchair but that also looked fashionable. I’d Google ‘fashionable disabled clothing’ and it would come up with an old lady with grey hair and purple fleece, and I just thought ‘no, that cannot be her life – she is still young and stylish’,” says Hannah.

Determined her mum shouldn’t be robbed of her sense of style, Hannah – who’s always had a passion for design – was inspired to launch Blossom, a new fashion label for women in wheelchairs. Hannah’s range of t-shirts come in a variety of vibrant, fun patterns – perfect for the style-savvy ladies out there, but, importantly, they also have a number of design features to ensure wheelchair-users not only look amazing but feel as comfortable as possible too.

“Mum really struggled with her belly being exposed when she was being hoisted and that really upset me, so I wanted the t-shirts to help protect her dignity. They have been designed to fit on the waistline at the back to prevent material from bunching up, and at the front the material is longer so that the t-shirts don’t ride up and expose people’s midriffs,” Hannah explains.

“They also have longer sleeves than standard t-shirts to give more coverage to the arms, and the labels are on the side rather than the neckline, because I think if you’re sat down all the time, it’s good to have things in places which won’t irritate you. They are really easy to get on and off, which was important, and I wanted them to be fitted to fit in with high street styles.”

I’d Google ‘fashionable disabled clothing’ and it would come up with an old lady with grey hair and purple fleece

Hannah exhibited her t-shirt designs at MS Life last year and has been overwhelmed by the positive response she’s had from the MS community. “The positive reaction has been immense and I’ve been in tears from the inbox messages people have sent me saying ‘this is brilliant’ and ‘we need more’. I honestly didn’t think there would be such a reaction,” Hannah says. “But everyone’s also been telling me all the other clothes they need too, so I will be designing jeans next as there is a huge demand for them.”

And what about Helen, what’s her favourite thing about the Blossom t-shirts? “I love how comfy they are! I didn’t want to go out the house before, but now I do.”

Hannah adds: “A lot of people when they are diagnosed with something, they can feel like they are defined by that, but MS doesn’t make you you. My mum’s still the same stylish, glamorous person she’s always been and these t-shirts show that.”

Adaptive clothing for all

Despite much talk recently about the power of the “purple pound” (as some people now describe the disability market), it can still be hard to find stylish adaptive clothing, particularly if you are young or a man. Here are a few organisations we have found.