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GFW19: Meet the designer who's had enough of the lack of inclusivity in the fashion industry

6th June 2019

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It’s not just the poorly designed website or stores, or lack of awareness or training that’s problematic for disabled people - it’s also the absence of stylish, professionally-designed quality clothes for disabled bodies. With 19% of British adults living with a disability, fashion student Evie Ashwin is telling the fashion world that “it’s about time we talk about inclusive design”.

Evie's smiling models in the dressing room // Image credit: Camille Dupont

As a third-year student at the Nottingham Trent University, the young designer found her inspiration in university alumna Linda Leaver. Evie says: “She has an amazing story of triumph over adversity following a skiing accident. I was lucky enough to gain her sponsorship which motivated me to research and design in this area.”

But it was her family that gave her the passion to work creatively with her hands. “My grandma made wedding dresses and still knits garments,” she says. “I have fond memories of me and my mum making bags and purses from a young age... I’ve always been more hands-on rather than academic mainly due to my dyslexia."

To ensure her designs really answer the needs of people with disabilities, Evie sent a questionnaire to Zebedee, the modelling agency that she used to find the models for her GFW19 show, and specialist companies in the sector including RGK Wheelchairs – manufacturer and supplier of sports and active wheelchairs.

This research gave her enough data to start the design process and think about disabilities from the pattern-cutting and design stage. This way, she managed to make each garment inclusive yet not adjusted.

Models waiting to rehearse for the show // Image credit: Camille Dupont

Evie says: “I have hidden easy fastenings for quick and independent dressing, for example, magnetic zips, snap taping and magnetics for buttons”.

For her concept, “[She] looked at mixing sportswear with tailoring.” Football came naturally to Evie when she researched a sport with a “strong sense of belonging and community”, as she puts it. People support their team and demonstrate “passion and brotherhood for one another.. It doesn’t matter who you are.”

Excerpt from Evie's research // Courtesy of Evie Ashwin 

And this is really how she took her collection to the next level: meeting the expectations of stylish garments that would enhance disabled bodies. “The majority of high street clothing is made to enhance the able-bodied figure, with little or no regard for the physically disabled”, she tells us.

To achieve the sense of inclusivity and community, Evie had to take her idea further and look at sourcing technical fabric. “[I] especially look[ed] at ‘Coolmax’ fabrics, which transport moisture away from the body to keep the wearer cool and dry on hot days, while fibres structure in the fabric provide insulation on colder days.”, she explains.

Finally, her last challenge as a designer was to “cater to different needs and functions. There is so much more to think about, not only the aesthetic look and design of my collection but the silhouette and pattern cutting (that) I had to adapt.”

In the end, with this design process and incredible collection, she really goes back to the core of what makes great made-to-measure high fashion. She looked at the bodies she wanted to dress and magnified their beauty.

And it appears it worked as she tells us that “Monty, who wore my ruffled joggers, wanted to keep them!”

As of what she’s planned after university, she says her “dream is to become a clothes designer continuing with inclusive design”. More to come then!

Follow Evie Ashwin on Instagram @evie_honor

Find out more about inclusive designs here.

For more GFW exclusives and behind the scenes stories keep an eye on our fashion homepage.

For live GFW updates follow our Instagram account @TheNationalStudent.

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