Quadriplegic Fashion Designer Carol Taylor Partners with Christina Stephens to Create Adaptive Collection “Unwrapped”

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Carol Taylor is a mom, wife, lawyer and she’s the first quadriplegic fashion designer in the world. A complete C5-6 quadriplegic from Australia paralyzed in 2001 in a car accident, Taylor eventually returned to law but her lifelong passion for fashion couldn’t be silenced. Because she couldn’t find what she wanted to wear in the shops Carol began designing clothes to meet her needs as a person with disability.

Carol was gearing up to launch her own fashion label when in 2022 she was approached by Jessie Sadler, CEO and Founder of the Christina Stephens adaptive clothing label with the proposal that rather than compete they should form a partnership with Carol as Head of Design and Production. Jessie Sadler had started the label in 2020 in the middle of a global pandemic after recognizing a gap in the market when her very fashionable mom had a nasty fall smashing both elbows and couldn’t find anything suitable to wear. “Jessie and I are both people with disability, Jessie being neurodivergent, and as such lived experience of disability is weaved through the threads of every garment we design” Taylor says.

The dynamic duo immediately got to work and showcased their first ‘Unwrapped’ collection, at AfterPays Australian Fashion Week in Sydney. This was Fashion Weeks first adaptive clothing runway. “Together we used my wheelchair as a battering ram to open doors previously shut to the disability community for almost 30 years!” It was an historical moment for both the Australian fashion Industry and the disability community.

The Beginnings of a Collection

“Christina Stephens exists to disrupt disability stereotypes,” describes Taylor of the label. “Our colorful and elevated designs, combined with smart innovations, has turned adaptive clothing on its head. We’re the brand that allows people with disability, dexterity issues, and changing bodies to wear what they want, not just what they’re given.”

“We are proud to be on the front line of the adaptive fashion industry, championing inclusive, stylish, and accessible designs for every body,” says Taylor. Right away, they began to work on their first collection, deciding to call it Unwrapped.

“The inspiration for the Unwrapped collection came from an international Zoom conference on the topic of accessible fashion. In the meeting, I was chatting with a young groom, also a quadriplegic and soon-to-marry his able-bodied fiancée. At the end of the conference, the other disabled guys were teasing him as boys do about the upcoming wedding night. Initially he went along with the joke, but you could’ve heard a pin drop when he said, ‘I will never know what it is to unwrap my bride.'”

Motivated and inspired by his story, “We immediately set about designing a tasteful aqua blue 3 piece lingerie set, complete with magnetic closures and Swarovski crystal encrusted loops sufficient in size to enable a thumb or teeth to undo the garment at several key points.”

A Closer Look at Unwrapped

Several garments in the Unwrapped collection honor someone with disability, who either inspired the piece itself or the look. “The Dinesh Seated Jeans (to be released soon) were inspired by 2021 Queensland Australian of the Year, Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM. Dr Dinesh is a quadriplegic Emergency Room doctor also a researcher, lawyer, author, disability advocate, and now supermodel to the Christina Stephens label. “If there was an award for Beautiful Human he’d get that too” Taylor says.

“Our seated jeans have undergone extensive research and development to create a custom denim blended with soft and sustainable Lyocell. This fabric together with our signature seamless ‘bucket bum’ design helps prevent pressure sores.” They also have discrete access features for catheter and colostomy users.

For Women, their “Natasha Physio Leggings” are fashionable athletic leggings that have pull tabs to assist with dressing, discreet catheter tube access and extra thigh room for leg bags. Their “Susie Q Seated Pants” for Women are vegan leather with gold zips down both sides for access and ease of dressing, in addition to their signature ‘bucket bum’ design to prevent pressure sores. Their Roisin Slouch Pants are ideal for girls who self-catheterize. “They have an invisible zip in the crotch and come in plain black or leopard,” adds Taylor.

Unwrapped also has gender-neutral garments. The “Sam Universal Linen Shirt” is a relaxed fit breathable linen shirt with magnetized closures (instead of buttons) to make dressing easy. It features a Raglan sleeve which makes pushing a manual wheelchair easier, as well as magnetic closures at wrists and is longer in the back for privacy if leaning forward in a wheelchair.

For Men, they offer adaptive swimming trunks called the “Lindsay Seated Board Shorts.” These trunks, of course offer the seamless bucket bum design to prevent pressure sores. They also have full length two-way zippers on both sides to help with dressing and bladder and or colostomy care and there’s extra space in the thigh area to accommodate a leg bag, a higher back and reinforced pull tabs to help with dressing.

Taylor herself loves to wear the “Oceania Kaftan,” a flowy top that she says hides areas she would rather not show. “This was hand-painted by yours truly and printed on 100% silk.” “It can be worn multiple ways as a top or separated to be worn as a scarf. I love the drama that the sleeves create and because I’m in a power chair I can get away with wearing it without fabric getting caught in my wheels.”

Designing for All

“A similar approach has been taken for individuals with limb difference and who use prosthetics. Durability and sustainability are significant issues due to holes quickly forming because of the friction between a titanium fibreglass prosthesis rubbing against denim. Jeans were just being disposed to landfill and replaced. Moreover, temperature regulation is a significant issue for those with limb loss and they often overheat. Access to easily adjust prosthesis was accommodated by providing two full length zips which also assists with easy dressing”

I thought, if we can have bullet-proof vests surely we can improve the durability of denim for prosthesis wearers. As a result we designed our “bullet-proof denim. We added a strengthening agent to the denim and to accommodate temperature control added a cooling agent. There’s nothing else on the market like it!

Their models are inclusive as well. Most of the models they employ for their runway shows and print are friends from the disability community. “Our ultimate goal is to revolutionize adaptive fashion and bring it into the mainstream,” says Taylor. “We want people with disabilities to enjoy the same retail experience everyone else can, enjoy catching up with friends for lunch, followed by a bit of retail therapy with clothing that is fashionable but also functional and be able to try them on in accessible change rooms, rather than being forced to only purchase online.”

Visit Christina Stephens

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