There was a certain irony to the fact that I conducted a phone interview with Emma and Molly of JAM the Label with a jacket in my bag – a jacket that I am unable to put on independently.
The full-time Occupational Therapists worked as disability support workers whilst studying. Debriefing after shifts, they realised that Emma struggled when helping Maddie dress for the same reasons Molly struggled when helping Jack dress:
“It was really hard for them to get dressed. Sometimes we’d be out in the community and it would get cold or windy, but you couldn’t help them get a jacket on or off them whilst they were in the wheelchair.”
There is a principle which underpins Occupational Therapy: “If you can’t adapt the task, adapt the environment”, a philosophy that encouraged Emma and Molly to look into adaptive clothing. They found that whilst adaptive clothing has been explored by brands like Tommy Hilfiger in America, and Marks and Spencer in England, there was a noticeable lack of adaptive clothing in Australia.
“We really struggled to find a trendy, cool, adaptive clothing line. Any clothes that were easy to wear seemed a bit daggy or age-inappropriate for teenagers.”
After consulting with the families of Jack and Maddie, Emma and Molly were inspired to launch JAM the Label, an adaptive clothing line where items can be purchased using funding from the National Disability Insurance Scheme. After conducting a small survey, respondents suggested that due to the ‘four seasons in one day’ Melbourne weather, an adaptive jacket would be of the greatest value. Crediting much of their success to the connections they have made along the way, they spoke to a mutual friend who studies fashion and started designing a jacket, including Jack and Maddie in every part of the process:
“The first design was plain black fabric that we got from spotlight just to see if the design would work…We showed Jack… and said: “What if we had it made with funky colours or a cool pattern?” and he said yes.”
JAM’s first product was the confetti jacket.
For a wheelchair user living with spasticity, the process of putting on a jacket is comparable to putting on a jacket with the restrictions of a car seatbelt and someone else having to assist you in leaning forward. The jacket sleeves are fully zippable down to the wrists (never fear, the zips are covered,’coz you know… fashion) meaning the jacket can be pulled over the person’s head like a poncho. There are also velcro fasteners at the wrist to ensure hands don’t disappear into sleeves, and a shorter and higher back to prevent bunching and irritation. There are no tags on any of the products to cater for those with tactile sensitivity. Going forward, Emma and Molly hope to assist people with lower fine motor skills by offering clothes with adaptable buttons, so that they do not need to compromise on clothing. To the founders of JAM, choosing how to present oneself is a symbol of freedom often not afforded to those with disability:
“Everyone else can wake up in the morning and choose what they want to wear that reflects their style and self-expression, why are [people with disabilities] not allowed that opportunity?!”
Emma and Molly first displayed their products at the Source Kids Expo in March, where all feedback followed a similar theme: it is such a simple business idea, yet there is such a need. They found it beneficial to present the items to the community because people were able to touch the fabric and appreciate its quality. They hope to have more opportunities for people to ‘try and buy’ once logistical issues are resolved.
Contravening the rule of not going into business with your friends, Emma and Molly found that their friendship and polar opposite personalities has enhanced their business relationship:
“Emma is very organised, in charge of the financials, makes certain to dot the i’s and cross the t’s; whilst Molly is creative, social, and likes to reflect on all business decisions’.
They are indebted to Katrina, founding director of Melbourne company A Fitting Connection who was able to align them with other companies, and connect them with different suppliers and manufactures.
The pair, although youthful at twenty-five and twenty-six years old, are well-equipped to build this business – Molly works at a day service for adults with intellectual disabilities, whilst Emma is employed at a special needs school – so they are surrounded by inspiration for adaptive clothing every day. Their one rule? ‘Don’t go too broad too quickly’.
“At the moment, we are taking it month by month, conducting market research, focusing on getting our name out there and gathering feedback for the two products we have. The possibilities are overwhelming because [adaptive clothing] is done on such a small scale in Australia, we could really do some many different things with it.”
The launch of JAM has coincided with the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which emphasises the importance of people with disabilities exercising choice and control. Emma and Molly are planning on using the timing to their advantage:
“Why not create a one-stop shop for people of all different abilities and needs to go to the one website, now that people with disabilities in Australia have more control over what they purchase and what services they access.”
This online store would act as a platform for adaptive clothing, where items such as adaptive items such as bras and shoes would be promoted and available for purchase. Yet Emma and Molly are keen to ensure that JAM is not positioned as a disability equipment company, but as any other clothing brand, and primarily a fashion label. They believe that universal design is the way of future
“This is just the beginning, and we can’t wait to see the Australian fashion industry become more inclusive” (JAM the label website).
Emma and Molly are eager to grow the JAM community.