Women of Yarrow
The design team behind Yarrow talks about their experiences with adaptive design and how the new women’s adaptive design brand Yarrow came to life. From their personal experience to fittings via Zoom to naming the styles after disability rights activists, Kaycee Marshall and Tracy Vollbrecht take us behind the scenes at Yarrow.
ON LIFE EXPERIENCE
Kaycee: How did you get your start in adaptive design?
Tracy: Watching my dad’s daily challenges with MS and his struggle with clothing is when I started becoming interested.
I was midway through my fashion career at Kent State when I decided to combine my knowledge of fashion with my interest in adaptive design. This led to my senior thesis Adaptive Aesthetics: A Universally Designed Collection, which included market research with seventy-five people with a wide variety of different disabilities, a published thesis and capsule collection.
K: What accommodations did you make to the garments which were informed by your experience with your dad?
T: The first thing I noticed with my dad’s MS was small dexterity challenges. We had to re-look at buttons, zippers, and clasps, and see how they could be modified. It was swapping buttons for magnets or even just removing buttons. Even like adding welt pockets, which can be functional for all.
T: How did you get your start in adaptive design, Kaycee?
K: It sounds silly, but it feels like my start with adaptive fashion started the moment I was born. Because of my condition and the shape of my body, I struggled keeping my pants up over my hips. As a result, I was wearing overalls basically all the time. To be fair, it was the 90s, so it was totally in. It was clear from the beginning that clothes weren’t made for people like me, from hemming my pants to even trying to fit shoes over AFO orthotics, to wearing knits to avoid pressure sores. But even when I was little, fashion was always something I was into and part of my DNA. I had a sketchbook in crayon of my designs. I wanted to be fashionable, so I was constantly trying to adapt my clothes so they would work with my body. So fast forward to college where you and I first met in the Kent State design program. For my first collection, I focused on my experience prom dress shopping as a wheelchair user. I have scoliosis, so I struggled to zip my dress up over the curvature of my spine. The layers of tulle would get stuck in my tires. I realized after speaking with other wheelchair users that many people faced similar struggles, so I decided to focus on that for my thesis.
T: So, did you find your dream dress and modify it, or did you end up making it?
K: I found my dream dress, and I think my tailor hated me for all the alterations it needed. It was a black ball gown with lots of layers of tulle. And, of course, you couldn’t just hem it, each layer was lined in sequins, so she had to take it up from the top of the skirt. But it was indeed fabulous.
ON HUMAN-CENTERED DESIGN
T: I think our life experiences definitely shaped how we design now. Like you said, now we know if you add detailing at the bottom, it will affect someone’s ability to hem it.
K: Exactly! And although I don’t have dexterity issues myself, my grandma was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when I was in high school. And similar to your dad’s experience, she also struggled with being able to button her pants or zippers. My grandma was a super stylish lady. She still wanted to wear her clothes and dresses that she loved, but it became a struggle for her.
T: We both focused on human-centered design and putting the wearer first, and now we are able to translate that foundation into Yarrow. The Juniper team did market research and was able to really find out who our customer is, leading us to what adaptive features to consider. We started with the state-of-the art technology that was out there - MagnaReady® magnets and MAGZIP™ zippers.
Kaycee, I feel like you were a huge help during this process when we were considering garments that were comfortable and still functional. Do you want to speak more to that?
K: And fashionable! We want garments that are not only functional for our wearer but flattering to our body as well. Functionality doesn’t have to sacrifice fashion.
T: Exactly! In the regards to the color palette, it is a fall collection so we went with dark, rich colors that are not only flattering on all skin tones but can hide stains and spills which is an important factor to our customer.
ON DESIGNING DURING COVID-19
K: We started this in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s talk about the challenges we had designing virtually.
T: Switching to a work-from-home mindset was definitely an adjustment. The hardest part from a designer perspective was that we are so used to presenting our ideas in person, where you can pass around fabric swatches or pull a sample as reference. I had to make sure that the designs were portrayed well on a screen. In the usual design process, the more detailed technical drawings come later, after designs have been signed off on. But in this case, we had to do them early on to make sure our designs were clear to the team. What was the hardest part for you?
K: I found the sampling process the most interesting. You were trying things out on your sewing machine, and I wasn’t there to be able to see it, feel it, and try it out.
Design is so hands on. It was hard because you wanted to try out your ideas and show them to the team, and you can’t really do that well through a webcam.
T: The other unique thing was how we were on the forefront of switching to virtual fittings early on. It allowed us to work with a wide range of fit models to really test out our products. We sent samples across the country, from Ohio to Michigan to right here in New York. Going virtual allowed us to incorporate a wide range of disabilities from all over. In-person fittings might not have been as flexible.
K: The biggest thing was actually including people with disabilities in that fit process. The feedback they gave us was so valuable. It was hard to try out the functionality virtually. Including disabled people in the fit process allowed them to really try out the garments, allowing us to see the difference it made for them. I was even a fit model!
The other thing with virtual fittings is it made them more accessible. In New York, people with disabilities have to deal with the inaccessible and outdated subway system or arranging other transportation to be able to come into a fitting in the city. We got to bypass that and do it in the comfort of our own homes.
ON FAVORITE STYLES
K: I may be a little biased, but I have to say the Kaycee Seated Jegging. As a wheelchair user, I have struggled with jeans my whole life. Jeans usually have no stretch and the metal hardware rubs on my legs and can cause pressure sores. Keeping jeans up is also a challenge. Yarrow’s Kaycee Seated Jegging is made out of a knit fabric and has an elastic waistband. I also love the side pockets. They make it easy to store your phone, so you don’t have to worry about it falling out as it has a magnetic closure.
T: It’s tough to pick a favorite, but I do love the Button Down. It is so clean, so polished, but so comfortable. We chose the fabric with comfort in mind as it has a soft finish. Although it is a woven top, it does have stretch and flexibility. The fit is more A-line, which should work with more body types. The cuffs have a bit of elastic in the back, which makes it easier to push your sleeves up. It would be ideal for someone with crutches or someone who uses a wheelchair to get the sleeves up, out of the way, while pushing themselves. It looks like a button down but has a magnetic placket as a functional piece. It is a really beautiful garment.
ON THE WOMEN BEHIND THE NAMES
K: So, we did something special with naming the garments. I mentioned that the jegging was named “Kaycee.” Let’s talk a little bit about naming the garments for Yarrow.
T: We are naming each garment after people who are active in the disability rights space. We took a look at the history of disability rights and the ADA and even people who are active now. We want to highlight people who are making a difference.
K: I love this concept. One of the garments is named after Nina Tame, who has made a profound impact in my life. I found her on Instagram. She calls out Ableism, inspiration porn, and other hard-hitting topics within the Disability community. Some of the topics she covers I have experienced my whole life but had never heard anyone vocalize these issues. Her work influenced me to find my voice and identity within the Disability community.
T: Yes, the Nina Cardigan! I love that Nina talks about motherhood as a disabled person. Some of the other great people who have made an impact are Dr. Malvika Iyer, who we named our T-shirt after and Bonnie Sherr Klein, who we named our caregiver tunic top after. I love how they are both working internationally to expand disability rights. Dr. Iyer works with the UN and the Indian government, while Bonnie works in Canada and worldwide as a filmmaker. They look at the larger scope of policy and culture worldwide.
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