Adaptive Wear Designer Monika Dugar’s Collection Bridges An Unnoticed Gap in the Fashion Industry with Parkinsons Clothing
“Everyone is just too caught up with the initial infatuation of glamour, which is only 10 percent and exists only for a few seconds,” observes the London-based adaptive wear designer from Jaipur, Monika Dugar, a recent fashion school graduate with her foot in the door of the fashion industry. Charting her journey as Research Analyst to graduating from one of the most prestigious fashion schools in the world, London College of Fashion. Her graduation collection [R E S E T] created quite the stir as it brought to attention the importance of adaptive wear for people with disabilities. I caught up with the young designer to know more about what inspired her collection, her views on the importance of formal fashion education, the market for adaptive wear, and what’s lacking in the Indian fashion landscape.
1. Tell me a little about your background and your education.
My family is from a finance background but my heart always lay in fashion designing as the career choice. I would always flip through glossy fashion magazines and keep in touch with the latest trends. I did my schooling and my college education in Jaipur, then I went to Bombay for work experience as a Research Analyst in a brokerage firm for three and a half years. But I could not connect to the field of finance as it lacked creativity and ideas for innovation. I toyed with the idea of making the big career switch, so I decided to join the London College of Fashion, and did my internship at Mary Katrantzou & Paul Smith, that’s where I learned a lot from the basics to realising what my actual skill was in fashion and much more. I gained some experience in developing products and seeing how production works as I worked behind the scenes for London Fashion Week.
2. Can you tell me a little about how you decided on your education and the institute you would join?
I wanted to study in London because I always felt that it would inspire a sense of creative freedom and expression like no other place. There is so much to learn about fashion even just by visiting London, so studying at the centre of it is such an immersive experience. It has been an incredible experience, a real insight into the creative process and how this works when anchored around a commercially successful business. The LCF program encourages its students to be involved with the current industry, in turn learning real-life skills that will help in their careers.
3. How important do you think formal fashion education is?
I think formal fashion education and work experience together is very important, as it teaches the practical aspect of everything, problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills, and above everything, to keep learning. A career in fashion design has always been lucrative. But given the rapid changes occurring in the industry, the future role of fashion designers calls for the ability to perform deeper levels of research in order to support design proposals. Hence, I think formal education is very important; it’s important to learn what goes behind the making of a garment/ the production of fashion weeks.
4. As a recent graduate, how do you see the contemporary global fashion industry?
The essence of the fashion industry is to create or build a business by presenting talent, creativity, telling the story of how a collection has been curated or the origin of its inspiration. Looking at the current scenario, I believe the main principle of the fashion industry is becoming irrelevant given the great destruction it is causing to the planet. Our natural resources are being depleted, workers around the globe are subjected to working conditions that are beyond imaginable conditions. Essentially, I think we can celebrate incredible talent in a more responsible way. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a colossal effect on almost every industry, and fashion is no different. There is a strong decline in sales, which is likely to continue after restrictions are lifted; the industry will need to show they can adapt to changing consumer needs.
5. Your graduation collection is beyond just pretty clothes. Tell us a little about [R E S E T]? What inspired you to take this approach?
I became involved in researching the condition after my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s five years ago. The hand tremors, stiffness and slow movement associated with Parkinson’s disease made the dressing routine pesky and difficult for him. During my course at London College of Fashion, I was exploring a market that sits at the niche of the transformation of the experience of fashion in the ageing and disabled, which motivated me to work on [R E S E T]. As far as design is concerned, it is inspired by the unique experiences that people with disabilities have, which comes from when you start making design personal and when you start reflecting on them.
[R E S E T] aims to serve as an inspiration and generates a new approach to transforming adaptive clothing for ageing and mobility challenge people. Designing for differently-abled is not a trend, it’s a necessity. Balancing fashion through functional clothing will empower people and advocate for inclusivity–that’s the aim.
6. What was the design process like for such a technical collection?
The collection is inspired by the concept of Visual Control of Locomotion in Parkinson’s disease, Brain: A Journal of Neurology, which is where we found that when someone with Parkinson’s looks at certain patterns, it could improve their mobility through visual cues. The collection is not only influential but features patterns which could aid mobility in people with Parkinson’s.
The design process included key attributes of simplicity and ease of use. Each garment was designed by keeping in mind various techniques like customised velcro and easy fastenings. Visual Velcro is used in the garment to recognise the opening and closing of the garment instead of buttons. These easy fastenings relieve the stress from fastidiousness of buttons and zips which is of help to people with restricted mobility. The garments feature optical illusion prints overcoming the limitations of accustomed clothing. The optical illusion print is visible to the wearer’s sight on the garments which provide visual cues, based on the effectiveness of using vision to facilitate locomotor activity. Everything from the shape, colour and texture of the collection is inspired by the ease of use, and we have added multiple pockets, positioned at different angles to further enable access for people with varying needs and make dressing themselves a comforting experience.
7. How would you weigh the commercial aspect of such a unique collection?
Being an adaptive clothing start-up in the fashion industry, an untapped market, there is a lack of access to multifaceted skills and resources. Brand recognition, scaling up and getting the funding are some of the biggest obstacles we’re facing. Clothing plays an important part of living well with the differently-abled, as the choice of clothes particularly can affect symptoms. This includes the all-important “look” and “self-confidence” factors alongside that of functionality, something which is currently missing from the market.
8. Fashion colleges still don’t encourage enough to design adaptive clothing, brands and press don’t want to collaborate as they mostly prefer conventional fashion clothing. This is based solely on the notion that disability-friendly clothing will be boring or sacrifice glamour, even though it certainly is not the case anymore. Currently, I’ve sent my clothing samples to people across healthcare so that I can improve and customise it according to any faults. Slowly it will gain momentum raising awareness and expansion of the brand through the retail alliance and through the target market–UK to begin with and then launching in Europe, US, and India which will lead to increase in scalable business from next year onward.
9. What are your views on the conversation around sustainability and inclusivity in fashion, pertaining to the present times?
With the consumption increase and marketing industry focusing on dispelling the stereotype for ageing, the paradigm is currently shifting and fashion, which bore a stigma of disfigurement, is becoming more inclusive.
As far as disabilities are concerned, it doesn’t matter if someone is diagnosed or not, I think it is very important for people to adjust. With the young-onset, people are getting diagnosed in their twenties. We need to raise awareness and make clothing more inclusive because features, design, print and colours can help people gain confidence. I think our work will inspire people in the fashion space–that’s the main aim. Every brand right now should be creating adaptive clothing, we need it in the market.
10. What do you think of the fashion education landscape in India? If you had to change one thing about the fashion system in India, what would it be?
I feel there is a yawning gap between the education and the industry in India and a strong sense of purpose is missing since most people have the erroneous assumption that everyone who graduates from a design school will end up as a fashion designer or have their own brand. People need to take a step back, think before launching a brand–how can it help people, what will be the purpose, how will your brand affect the environment. We need more critiques in the industry to bring out the best. Everyone is just too caught up with the initial infatuation of glamour, which is only 10 per cent and exists only for a few seconds.
I think education surely cannot have a standalone existence, they need to take an active stance on social issues, satisfy, consumer demands for transparency and sustainability, and, most importantly, have the courage to “self-disrupt” their own identity and the sources of their old success in order to realise these changes and win new generations of customers. For fashion players, it’s a year of awakening.