After visiting the Abilities Expo in Los Angeles, fashion designer Stephanie Alves quickly learned there was a strong desire for adaptive jeans within the disability community.
“Practically everyone in the U.S. wears jeans, but they aren’t easy enough to wear for people with disabilities,” said Alves, who has watched her own brother and step-sister struggle with dressing due to dexterity and mobility issues.
Hoping to change that, Alves founded ABL Denim and designed a line of premium jeans with adaptive features to meet the needs of people with disabilities. “Not only are they styled like many of the current styles in premium jean lines, but they have features that make them easier to dress in, (such as) long zippers, inside-out seams, higher back waists with a little elastic that hugs the back, cell phone leg pockets and more,” Alves said, adding that she also uses an ultra-soft denim material in a few of the styles to provide for added comfort.
The uniqueness of Alves’ jean line and her attention to detail recently earned her $250,000 through Mission Main Street Grants, a contest that enables small businesses to compete for a share of $3 million in grants from Chase. Winners were also invited to Google’s headquarters in California to participate in a marketing workshop. ABL Denim was one of only 12 businesses selected out of 35,000 entrants.
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“The grant has been received and is already in use to help us with faster delivery,” Alves said, noting, “I now work with factories in Los Angeles that can meet demands as we grow.”
Part of the grant will also be used to expand her denim line. “There have been many requests for shorts and that’s being developed right now—first for kids,” she said.
With over 25 years experience in the fashion industry, Alves previously designed clothing for such prominent companies as Ann Taylor Loft in New York and Gap Kids before she decided to focus on creating adaptive clothing. It was after her step-sister began using a wheelchair that she made the career switch. “My step-sister developed nerve damage from two back surgeries. She told me how she was dressing in scrubs every day because it was just too difficult to get dressed,” Alves recalled.
After hearing that, Alves founded an adaptive alteration service called The Able Tailor in 2011 and then ABL Denim last March. “The response (to ABL Denim) has been great as to the selection of styles and features,” she said, adding, “Most importantly, we have customer feedback and have built relationships to get the sizing standardized for the greatest number of people. Production is still small so prices are high for many people, but we just introduced a less expensive stretch jean for men with faster delivery. Four months after the first production, we’re already improving.”
Although the jeans are only available online, “we’re working on being carried in rehab gyms, hospital shops, and mainstream stores,” said Alves, who is currently in talks with a major retailer about carrying the jeans. “This community needs more choices!”
For more information or to purchase jeans, visit www.abldenim.com.