Finally there is a line of clothing for women with a visual impairment: SeeFeel. Rachel Lourens (26), who graduated from the Fashion Textile Technologies degree programme this month, designed this new line of clothing. Now it's time for the next step: finding people to buy the clothes!
Clothing for blind women, how did you come up with that idea?
“The degree programme I did, offered the option of defining your own graduation assignment. This appealed to me, as I am not too keen on working on assignments defined by companies. I figured that a five-month graduation project should be something that gives you energy. I’ve had my mind set on developing my own fashion collection for a long time. Not designed for mass and overproduction, but aimed at a specific target group and trying to resolve a problem. I have always been fascinated about how fabrics are manufactured and how they feel once they are ready. As regards the feel of fabrics and textiles: that is something that is relevant to the target group of blind or visually impaired women. I started to check whether there was indeed a need for such expertise and customised clothing. I made called associations for the blind and spoke to women with visual impairments. I was met with so much enthusiasm that I started to think: this is an area where I can make a meaningful contribution."
Why is there such a need for customised clothing for the blind and visually impaired?
“The fashion industry had nothing to offer this target group. You would think that there would be clothing for this group, but it doesn't surprise me that there isn't. Large fashion brands are mainly focused on making money. This is a relatively small group, where you need to invest a lot of time and effort. I, for one, attach great value to social and societal considerations. Many of these women manage to get suitable clothing, but it would be nicer if they regain some of their independence. They already have a lot to deal with; they often depend on someone to navigate them through the visual world. This line of clothing is meant to support them. It feels extremely motivating to be able to offer a solution to this group. I have heard dramatic stories from other students about their frustrations in writing their thesis. I didn't have any problems with it at all. On the contrary, I was fully motivated during the five months I wrote my thesis."
It feels extremely motivating to be able to offer a solution to this group.
How did you go about it?
“I started holding interviews with members of the target group. I used their feedback to filter out the functional and aesthetic requirements and, based on that, I made sketches and fabric samples. Which materials and seams do I need to use to make it tangible and 'feelable’? I made three prototypes, which I then presented to the target group. I asked them: What do you think about these? They were very enthusiastic. I will continue to check on their views in the future. It is not enough for me to like it, they should be happy with it too. I have incorporated the feedback on fabric samples into the other designs. This has resulted in a full clothing collection. Nine outfits, so far: five dresses, four pairs of trousers, four tops. Whether you are 20 or 60: there is a suitable outfit for every age.”
What makes your line of clothing suitable for blind women?
“Tactile or ‘feelable’ elements. Think of tangible prints, stripe patterns that you can feel, size labels that have tangible letters/are printed in braille. I have now done this by way of an embroidery stitch, but I am going to look into the possibility of using 3D prints in the future. Another example: on the back of each clothing item there is a small piece of fabric that allows women to immediately feel if it is the front or back, so they don't worry about putting it on the wrong way. Matching clothing items also have the same label. So women no longer have to ask: does this clothing combination match? Or: what colour is this dress? The idea is that women with a visual impairment can find suitable and matching clothing items independently."
How would you describe the style of SeeFeel clothing?
“First of all, it is characterised by its simplicity. I avoid zippers, fasteners and small buttons: things that make life difficult for the target group. There is a whole list of requirements that the clothing items must meet. The sleeves should not be too long, otherwise they get dirty while eating. The dress shouldn't be too long either, because that is dangerous. The aesthetic elements are thus somewhat subordinate to the functional elements, but I don’t make any compromises, it has to look beautiful. In a sense, blind women find it even more important that they look neat and tidy than women with good eyesight. The focus is then not immediately on their impediments. That is why I use special fabrics and combinations. The silhouettes are simple, but the use of different fabrics makes it interesting. I make clothes that I would want to wear myself as well."
Where can women see and buy your line of clothing?
“On 14 March, there is a fashion show at Fooddock in Deventer. The collection will be presented then. People with a visual impairment will be given a headphone and will hear a detailed description of what comes by on the catwalk. They will also be able to feel the clothes and of course buy them. My top priority now is to market the clothing collection. My forte is working with fabrics and designs, and doing research, but I am not good in sales. The pricing of the clothing is crucial: I want to make sure it is affordable, and also ethically justified. I am busy looking for someone who can help me with this. So if there are any students who want to contribute and have some spare time: please help me! Developing a brand is great fun. In my next collection I might be able to incorporate technology, such as buttons that you can scan with an app, so that the information is read out to you. This is all extremely exciting. Halfway through the graduation project, I thought: if this were my job, I would be very happy. And all pieces of the puzzle are now starting to fall together."