Episode 5 – Skills for Life
Hosts Dr Lisa Interligi and Kristine Christopoulos welcome guest Nicola Millar, Occupational Therapist, to talk about helping young people with disabilities develop skills for life.
Hosts Dr Lisa Interligi and Kristine Christopoulos kick off Season 3 with another pair of entrepreneurs. Occupational Therapists Emma and Molly founded accessible fashion label Jam The Label which designs for the needs of young people with disabilities and the fashion conscious, recently showing at Australian Fashion Week.
Speaker 1: Welcome to Loop Me In, the podcast community for parents and carers on raising children with disabilities. Join presenters, Dr. Lisa Interligi and Christine Christopoulos and their guests in sharing experiences, information and support ideas to help children with disabilities flourish. Luke Me In is brought to you weekly on platforms like Apple Podcast, Spotify, and Stitcher, to name a few. You can learn more. Connect to the Loop Me In community and listen to more episodes on our website, loop-me-in.com.au.
Speaker 2: Hi, today’s podcast is we Jam the label. Welcome ladies to our podcast.
Emma: Hi, thank you for having us.
Molly: Thank you.
Speaker 2: So tell us a little bit about Jam. How did this start for you, girls?
Emma: Molly and I met at university while studying to become occupational therapists. At the time we both worked casually as disability support workers in particularly with young people with disability. Molly worked with a young boy called Jack and I worked with a young girl called Maddie. Both Jack and Maddie have cerebral palsy. They are wheelchair users and they’re reliant on others to get dressed each day.
So Molly and I used to come together at uni all the time and talk about how dressing was such a difficulty for Jack and Mattie and nearly all of our clients that we worked with and how anything that was a bit easier for them to get dressed in, and that wasn’t so time consuming, it was really daggy and not stuff we would want to wear. And they were having to compromise on style and fashion just to make things a bit easier in their day to save a bit of time. And we thought, well, we didn’t have to compromise on that. So why should Jack and Maddie?
And you know, young adults that are really coming into the stage of their life when they’re expressing themselves through their fashion choices and their styles. So that’s where we sort of came up with the idea for jam, which is named after Jack and Maddie, and yeah, to think about creating inclusive, adaptive fashion items that are both functional and fashionable.
Speaker 6: What did Jack and Maddie think about the name?
Emma: Ah, absolutely stoked. They both grinned from ear to ear whenever we talk to them and tell them that we’ve been chatting about them again, or, yeah, super, super excited.
Speaker 2: So tell us a little bit about, for example, I noticed there’s no tags on your items. So tell us a little bit about where you got your ideas from.
Molly: We’ve got a few reasons why we’ve eliminated tags. First of all, because everyone finds tags super annoying. I know I’m always trying to get rid of the tag or move it in a different position. So we just sort of eliminated that for people with sensory differences, but also for people, say, like Jack and Maddie, who Jack communicates non-verbally. So he uses a communication device, but not always is able to communicate his thoughts. So we were saying that, for someone like Jack, if a tag’s annoying him, there’s no way that he can let us know that’s annoying him. And he also has sort of limited use of his arms, so isn’t able to reach back and itch that tag away. So the people with sort of communication difficulties or sensory differences. There’s sort of so many different reasons why tags can be difficult for people or annoying for people. And so we just eliminated them to get rid of that difference.
Speaker 6: And I think that’s a really clear design feature. That’s really easy to explain to people. Because when you explain it, everyone understands and everyone’s like, oh yeah, tags are so annoying. Why do we need them? But you know, all of our different products have different design features that some are a little bit more elaborate or involved and meet quite more of a specific need. Whereas, others are more universal, like removing tags or having printed on tags. So with our first product, which was a wheelchair accessible jacket, that was specifically created to be put on and taken off while seated in a wheelchair, it had features like a shorter back, opened up like a poncho, so it could be put on whilst in the seated position. All those kind of things that were quite specific to people that use wheelchairs. However, there’s lots of other products that we’ve created since that have been much less individualized and meeting a broader range of needs.
Speaker 2: Yeah. I did like the pants you had, where you zipped them up on the side and you kind of don’t realize that until sitting in a wheelchair, how you’re going to pull up the pants, so doing it on the side just makes it so much easier. Doesn’t it?
Molly: Mm-hmm. And similarly, like Emma was saying, with those pants are sort of designed for people who need assistance dressing. So yeah, when you’re getting dressed, lying down, those side zips and sort of that access is really good, but then they also have elastic at the back and belt loops so that people who can just pull them up, you can just pull them up like trackies. So we’re trying to sort of make them really universal so that no matter what your dressing needs are, these products are able to assist.
Speaker 6: Yeah. I think that’s great actually, because I know that with Louie, we struggle with jeans, trying to not have him do it, a [inaudible 00:05:00] bloody flash.
Speaker 6: We’re always saying, “Pull your pants up, Lou, pull your pants up, Lou.” Which just must be really annoying for him. But you know, just for his dignity, we don’t want him flashing his bum, but yeah. No. So that high, that elastic waist, I think is really important. And they look so groovy, those. Got the lower waste and they look really contemporary, which is fantastic. Isn’t it?
Emma: Yeah. And that’s a really important part of all of our products and our whole brand is that we are trendy and age appropriate and something that anyone that’s a young adult would want to wear and want to show off. We really, from the start, said, “We don’t want to be medicalized. We don’t want to be this sort of specialist equipment that only people with disability have access to. We really want to be like any other fashion brand.” And so that’s been really important to us throughout this whole process.
Speaker 2: Yeah. I was really happy to see that because I’ve always found with Matthew, I kind of always saw disabled young boys with truck suit pants really high up and looking really daggy. And I’ve been a really big advocate for Matthew to always look good as if he was a mainstream kid leaving the house. I wanted him to look the way he would in any circumstance. And I think it’s great. And I think people with a disability would also like to have that choice as well. They don’t want to wear track suit pants every day. And I did see recently you’re in Australian Fashion Week, which is so awesome. Tell us a little bit how that came about.
Molly: Yeah. So we did Australian fashion week with another adaptive clothing label called Christina Stephens. And we did it through the Adaptive Clothing Collective, which is a group that we formed. Three of Australia’s leading inclusive fashion brands have created it to have sort of a unified voice and message because it is such a growing category. And we’re still sort of paving the way a little bit in terms of people don’t really know what adaptive fashion is in Australia that much yet. And so we wanted to have sort of a collective voice to be able to shape the industry. So we came together with them and approached Australian Fashion Week and they were super, super keen to have an adaptive show and sort of be a little bit more diverse.
Speaker 6: And you’ve got a trench code, haven’t you? I think I saw it on your website. What does it say?
Molly: Yeah, so it says, “Fix the system, not me,” which was modeled on our runway. It was sort of our closing piece. And that was modeled by Chloe Hayden, who is an autistic actress. And that was really important, not only to all the models and to everyone watching and to us, but we had a lot of conversations with each of our models in the lead up to Australian fashion week about what’s important to them when they get dressed each day. And what do they look for in accessible clothing?
And we a had really interesting conversation with Chloe, which was that she felt as an autistic person, she was really passionate about her rights and loved having those kind of conversations and topics of interest that she would do that deep dive into. And one of them was autistic and disability rights. And so we said, “Well, why don’t you show that through your fashion and through your style?” And so it was really important that she was the one wearing that trench coat, which was also obviously quite bold in colors and really stood out and she absolutely rocked it. But yeah, the message behind it was very important for the overall show and for Chloe as well.
Speaker 6: Oh, that’s fantastic. It’s a really lovely piece. How do you go about designing your stuff?
Molly: In our regular pieces, we sort of look at the dressing difficulties that people have either approached us with. So we do a lot of collaboration with those with lived experience. That’s super important to us and one of our main values. And we’ll sort of look at the different dressing needs that people have. And then Emma and I will go through and say, “Okay, how can we try and work around this one? How can we work around this one?” And then, because we are not from a fashion background, we bring in some experts to be able to assist and just say, “Hey,” we’ll say, “We’d like a zip to go here. Is that going to be possible? What sort of closure will work here?” And we work through sort of from the needs first, and then we try and fit them into the pieces that we’re designing.
Emma: Yeah. And it’s a lot of trial and error, like with the whole production process, we can have a design in our head, but then once it becomes a reality in a sample and you’re like, oh, that doesn’t work out. Like we thought it would, or that doesn’t look as great, it’s functional, but it’s not stylish as we want it to be. And so it’s a lot of trialing and error and editing the samples until we’re happy with the end product, which again, as Molly said, through the design process, we collaborate with people with lived experience, but also through the sampling and sort of testing phase, we also test it out on people that will benefit from it to see if it’s actually working how we intend to work.
Speaker 6: Yeah. Because you don’t want to cause us the same sort of problem. Do you?
Speaker 2: Yeah.
Speaker 6: If it doesn’t fit, actually, when it’s sampled or it’s not comfortable, then it’s kind of defeated [inaudible 00:09:45]
Emma: Defeats the purpose. Yeah. It’s not meeting the needs that we intend it to. So back to the drawing board.
Speaker 2: And material would be important too, isn’t it? Especially the pajamas. I noticed they’re quite hard jersey material, obviously not for biting. And just that sensory. Tell us a little bit about the materials you’ve used.
Emma: Yeah. So materials is super important from a functional aspect because obviously they need to look great and they need to feel great. So they need to have a certain tactile feel to them. So for instance, with our bamboo tops, it was really important that they were soft, because we wanted to reduce as much sensitivity as possible, tactile sensitivity as possible, but then it was also really important that they had stretch to it. So for that functional aspect, again, that we both had lots of experiences, especially with Jack and Maddie, where trying to assist with getting a T-shirt on would end up in a ripped neck line or something stretching and losing its shape because you’re having to stretch the fabric over tight limbs or something like that.
So, in that product, it was really important to us that the fabric had to be soft, but also stretchy, which is why we’ve got a bamboo elastine fabric with that one. But all of our products, probably the fabric is the biggest sticking point that we’re not happy until the fabric is 100% serving its purpose. And a lot of the time that is getting stretch into it, because with stretch, obviously it has more give and just has more flexibility with ease of getting dressed. So yeah. In every single one of our products, the fabric is extremely important from that functional aspect.
Speaker 2: And what new trends have you got going at the moment? What new designs is in the making?
Molly: So we’re about to release a couple of new products in July. We’re bringing out a hoodie, which is good, which will sort of close up our essentials range, which at the moment we’ve got our essentials and our sort of basics, which are going to be our staple collection that we have all the time. And then at the moment, we’re hiring for our first fashion designer to come on board to help us do sort of more seasonal sort of fashion forward ranges that we’re going to hopefully have sort of once or twice a year. So we’re super excited for that. So to show a bit more of Jam’s sort of funky personality.
And we’re about to rerelease our first product, which was that jacket design for wheelchair users. We’ve sort of rejigged that a little bit to be a bit more universal. And we are bringing that out in July as well.
Emma: We’re really excited to get more sort of bold colors out there, as Molly said. That sort of funkiness, so that people can see our products and be like, oh, that’s a Jam item, by how it looks. Yeah. At the moment we’ve got our essentials, which is great, and then everyone has to have those sort of staple items, but we are really excited to get that boldness out there and a bit more of that youthful personality.
Speaker 6: Yeah. They’re fantastic. And are you just supplying in Australia or have you got ambitions to take Jam global?
Molly: So I think we’re in a very unique position in Australia with the NDIS and we sort of want to get it right here in Australia first and sort of grow our name here and get sort of really establish here in Australia. And then we are definitely looking to expand overseas. I think there’s people with disabilities all over the world and we want to be able to provide choice and control and options for them as well.
Speaker 2: Sounds fantastic. And the models on the show. You mentioned before you had a girl with autism. How did you select the models that you used?
Emma: Yeah, so for Australian fashion week, we knew that we had six looks. So we had to find six different models. It was important to us to show people, all the people watching, that disability is diverse. Particularly for us with our background and having a lot of experience within the disability community, we wanted to show that adaptive or inclusive clothing is not just for people with physical disability, which it’s often viewed and which some brands often are just stick to physical disability. But I think that’s where we are quite unique. Because we are OTs, is that we kind of view disability really holistically. I mean, we chose a few models because we had great relationships with them and we knew that it would be a great opportunity for them, but we also wanted to have diversity within our models and sort of gender diversity, identity diversity, cultural diversity, everything really.
There’s a couple of great modeling agencies that are appearing over the last couple of years, which are more diverse as well. So for instance, WD is one that we contacted and they sort of specialize in really diverse models. So we were able to get a couple of our models from their agency. And yeah, obviously we had a few models that do have physical disability or wheelchair users or ambulant wheelchair users. However, we also had Chloe who identifies as being autistic. We also used Jonathan Gerlach, who is a Paralympic triathlete and he has a vision and hearing impairment. So that was a really great experience.
Unfortunately, he was actually in a triathlon for the runway. So we did the whole process with him, design process, filmed everything, but on the day he didn’t model it down the runway. However, his was a really great experience to show how fashion can be exclusionary or exclusive of people with vision impairment. And a lot of the population wouldn’t consider their dressing needs. And so just a few different design features allowed his outfit to be way more inclusive of what his dressing needs are with his vision impairment.
So the model that actually modeled that outfit down the runway, Louie, he actually didn’t identify as having a disability, which was also important to us to show that anyone can wear our products and that it doesn’t have to be this super specialized, separated category. Yeah. Our products looked like they deserve to be on a runway and so anyone should be able to wear them. So that was really important as well with our model choice.
Molly: Jonathan was great to have actually, because, as Emma was saying, we have sort of a really diverse working background working with lots of different people with lots of different disabilities, but we hadn’t designed previously for someone with a vision impairment. And so discussing with him, he was telling us lots of different stories. Because previously, we’d discussed with people with vision impairments before, but they were speaking about how it was often the shopping experience that was difficult for them. So accessibility of people’s websites or within a shop and things like that. But Jonathan was saying that often he would have difficulty with sort of contrasting. He’d need contrasting colors because he might pick out a top and be like, great. Great. I think this is blue. This pants are denim or black or whatever. And he said that one time he went out and he was wearing just a full gray outfit because he didn’t know that he was wearing that or it was sort of inside out.
And so that was really interesting to figure out. You know, maybe we could put some tactile indicators, so he knows what side. So we made one side of the jacket velvet and the other side a suiting material, because then he would be able to know, okay, the pink side’s the velvet side. The blue side is the suiting. I know which I’m selecting. So that was really interesting to design for.
Speaker 6: That’s amazing. Isn’t it?
Speaker 2: Yeah.
Speaker 6: You don’t think about all these at all. [inaudible 00:16:36] Do you? I mean, I know that Louie has fine motor skill issues, so he has difficulty undoing his buttons. I know you’ve got magnetic buttons, which is fantastic. But those sort of things with vision impairment, you wouldn’t know what you could practically do to assist that, would you?
Molly: Yeah, exactly. And even I think that’s what we sort of try and share as well, that so many people benefit from even things like the magnetic closures. Definitely people with fine motor difficulties, but also people with intellectual disability who may have difficulty matching up the buttons, even sort of can put the bottom of the shirt together and it zips up and they’re not having to sort of figure out where. And people with chronic pain or chronic fatigue who can do up the buttons, but it takes sort of half an hour and then they need to go and rest for half the day in bed because they’ve used up their energy thresholds. So it benefits a lot of different people.
Speaker 2: And how did you both get into OT?
Emma: I think we kind of have similar stories. Well, I took a gap year after high school and I was going to go into nursing. I knew I wanted to do something within the healthcare industry. Whilst I was traveling, I met a lot of OTs who just raped about the profession and said, “You’ll never get bored. It’s the best career ever.” And that’s the one thing we always talk about. I’ve never met an OT that’s not passionate about being an OT. Everyone sort of loves the field because it is so broad and so varied. And it’s so meaningful as well to the people you’re working with. So I did about six months of nursing and then realized I wanted that input that OTs get with their clients. And so I moved over, but also because my mom worked for [inaudible 00:18:13] at the time and she was saying, “I worked with so many amazing OTs, Emma. You have to go into it. I think it would suit you really well.” So I was influenced by my mom a bit with that, which I think you were as well.
Molly: Mine was similar. My mom worked in disability sort of all while I was growing up and then went on to do nursing that she was similar. She was like, OT would be so good. And I went to open days when I was finishing high school. And I just heard this story from the OT information session about this gentleman who had become a wheelchair user and really loved the beach and couldn’t access the beach because it wasn’t accessible to him. And they told this story about all these different things that the OT had put into place, which then got the gentleman back to being able to go to the beach again. And I was just like, wow. Imagine being able to have that sort of impact on someone’s life. And so, I think that’s the sort of thing that it makes us both really passionate about OT is it’s super creative and you can make a difference in things that really matter to people.
Speaker 6: Yeah. We love OTs don’t we?
Speaker 2: Yeah. We learn so much from OTs. And even now, what you’re doing, I mean, I didn’t even know that Matthew struggled with tags on the back, because he obviously can’t tell me. Until now, I’ve noticed he’s pulling them all off. So you’re always learning. Our boys are 22. We’re still using OTs. And you know, it’s amazing how you’ve created this label because they can go online. They can look for themselves what they want to buy. And it’s trendy. You’re not just going to Target and buying track suit pants for them.
Emma: Exactly. Yep.
Speaker 2: So, yeah. It’s been awesome to have you on girls. We can’t wait to see what you’re going to do next. And our boys will probably be wearing your clothes [inaudible 00:19:52]. I’ve just ordered a couple of things. So thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been great.
Emma: Thank you. Thank you for having us for having us.
Molly: Yeah. Thanks for having us.
Speaker 6: Yeah. Thanks, see you.
Speaker 2: Thank you.
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