(Ad)dressing the Inaccessible

(Ad)dressing the Inaccessible

RMIT Bachelor of Fashion (Design) graduate, Rachel Shugg, has been recognised for her accessible clothing designs in this year's Design Institute of Australia’s Graduate of the Year awards.

Currently working at the inclusive focused Australian clothing label, JAM the label, and has a residency with RMIT SITUATE, Shugg took out Graduate of the Year in Fashion Design in the Victorian and Tasmanian category. 

We spoke to Shugg about her mission to create more accessible fashion designs for people with disabilities.

29 August 2022


Two designs from Rachel's collection lay flat against a white background. The one on the left is a black top and the one on the right is a purple top. (Ad)dressing the Inaccessible. Source: Rachel Shugg.

Tell us about your projects and what you have been working on? 

Adaptive clothing is limited and lacks functionality to the specific needs of disabled bodies. My project, ‘(Ad)dressing the Inaccessible’ was born from witnessing this disparity firsthand. The project presents a collection of prototypes that rethink the style, function and comfort of clothing that has been altered or reimagined in some way to address the needs of a disabled or impaired body.

This project examined the relationship between the wearer and their body, creating a harmonious bond between the two that is so often disrupted when the wearer is forced to wear standard clothing. Designed through my experiences and experiences of my friends and peers, the project develops four stories that place the body and self at the centre of the garment’s function.

The four project stories explored include: 

  • The use of magnets to allow for quick and easy donning and doffing. 

  • Flat lay which is a construction technique where the side or shoulder seams are left unattached. 

  • Roll/Wrap which features large pieces of material that can be placed onto a wheelchair or seat and rolled together at the seams. Once the individual is seated, which is useful for wheelchair users who have little to no movement in their legs. 

  • Pleating material as an aesthetic method of considering stretch, which is used to prevent strain on the material due to increased arm and shoulder movement from manual wheelchair users.  

The project I am working on now is a continuation from last years. I want to research deeper into what Universal Design really is, and how the fashion industry reacts to dressing for disabilities. I am currently working on a project that explores the relationship between the wearer and their body. Often people with disabilities or bodies that are marginalized have a hard time finding clothing that suits their body and their identity as a result of the societal world failing to address their existence. Through this project I try to establish this connection through clothing and create positive experiences that connect the wearer’s Self and their body, whilst also commenting on the fashion industry’s prolonged refusal to accept disabled bodies.

Two people model Rachel Shuggs designs. One model sits on a wheelchair in a purple dress, one stands in a white outfit and another sits in a wheelchair with a purple top and black skirt. (Ad)dressing the Inaccessible. Source: Rachel Shugg.

Standard sizing is very exclusionary to differently abled people. Why is that?

We talk about ‘standard’ clothing or ‘sample’ sizing, expecting it to cater to a large group of people. A pair of jeans might be a perfect fit from one brand, but two sizes too small from another. The way we have been taught to consider and design for the body has been so static and precise. Take the tailored jacket for example, a beautiful piece, but as soon as the wearer tries to lift something or bend down with the jacket done up their movements are restricted. If this practice of the fashion industry applies to most able-bodied individuals, its approach to bodies that disabled are even more exclusionary. 

The lack of adaptive clothing available limits fashion options for people with a disability. There are several consequences to this - from the individual feeling insecure, limitations on their independence as they may need a carer to assist with dressing, or when the clothing becomes a safety hazard.

While adaptive clothing has become more popular as we push for inclusivity aesthetic value is often neglected, leading to limited style variation and choice. In store and online accessibility, cost and limited stock also add to these challenges. I approached designing for disabilities in the most visual and physical method I could, cutting out old clothes and ‘adapting’ them to specific movement requirements, and then applying these new adaptations to the designs I had created, rejecting the typical method of designing. 

What would you love to do in the future or see in the industry in the future?

I would love to be able to push this research that I’m doing into a PhD, where I can look at further ways to dress the disabled body combined with research into sustainable and biodegradable fashion practices. I want my work to be practical and wearable, but also serve as a purpose promoting more creative and inclusive work by the future designers of today.


Story: Saskia Kostic

29 August 2022


  • fashion

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.