By Nancy Baye
Izzy Camilleri has been in the fashion industry since graduating fashion college in 1984; working in high fashion, collections, and making custom wardrobes for the film industry. Now she focuses solely on adaptive clothing.
It began in 2005, when a Toronto journalist, who used a wheelchair, asked her fashion editor to recommend someone to make her a shearling cape. The editor thought of Izzy, knowing she worked in leather so would know shearling—leather with wool on the inside. Izzy recalls, “It was the first time I worked with someone in a wheelchair. This journalist was paralyzed from her neck down, she couldn’t move anything. It was a very eye-opening experience. I learned about her challenges, things I had never thought about before, because I had to get it right.”
Having never considered what it took for a wheelchair user to get dressed, or their limitations as to what they could and couldn’t wear, Izzy learned through this collaboration. After success with the shearling cape, the journalist pointed out the challenges that pants presented her. Izzy says, “I realized if she had all these clothing issues, a lot of other people did too. That led me to create the adaptive line, IZ Adaptive.”
By this time, Izzy was a well-respected Canadian designer, featured in magazines and worn by celebrities. “When I ventured into the adaptive area, it was – hey – what?” Many people couldn’t understand why she would leave her shiny career to move into a new area. But it was clear to Izzy. “I felt like there was so much out there for the able-bodied community but nothing for the disabled community, so I felt good about putting my talents there. It felt right; I felt propelled in that direction.”
From the beginning, IZ Adaptive focused on wardrobe basics like jeans, track pants, coats. They made them to be comfortable and stylish, something people could dress up or dress down. Their most popular item is the Game Changer jeans, Izzy adds, “because I solved a problem I thought was impossible.”
People wanted a pant that had no seam down the back, a seamless bottom and no back pockets. Izzy learned that when people sit all day on a bulky seam, they can develop pressure sores. These can lead to an infection, which can turn into sepsis. People can die from a pressure sore; even if they do heal, which could take a year, the odds of it coming back are up to 80%. The problem is more complicated for people who are paralyzed and don’t feel the discomfort.
Izzy reflects, “I didn’t think it was possible to create a pant with a seamless bottom. That seam is integral to the construction of the pant, separating right from left, front from back.” Seamless pants using a drop crotch create another problem: sitting on bulky layers of fabric can also create a pressure sore. “Garments are like puzzles, all the pieces fit together to create the right shape,” Izzy says, detailing the many challenges and considerations in creating adaptive clothing. “You have to understand the issues and obstacles or you could potentially hurt someone.”
The now-famous brand took time to gain acclaim. In the beginning, no retailer or department store would carry her line. They didn’t understand it, didn’t think there was a market for it. “The ball got rolling in 2018, when we were featured in The Guardian and Forbes. People started to see this was an untapped market. The media found me because there were so few players in this market. The press and social media spread the word about us.”
“What makes our brand different is that we focus only on adaptive clothing, have years of experience and a strong base. Wearers can enjoy more freedom and independence, can spend a couple more hours in their chair without worrying about what they’re wearing.”
But IZ Adaptive is about more than clothes, it’s about self-esteem, comfort, a sense of self. “People tell me that they couldn’t wear jeans until they found mine, or they always wanted to wear a trench coat and now they can. People with disabilities are starting to be heard more than ever and so are their needs. They have been deprived of clothing options; my brand provides those options.”
IZ Adaptive is available online. A visit to their Toronto studio is available by appointment.
The retailer, Every Human, carries their items in Australia and New Zealand.