The sparkly pink dress that looked so
cute on the mannequin might not look so cute when it bunches up around
the legs of a little girl in a wheelchair. And that cool Superman
T-shirt might not be very comfortable on the little boy who uses
crutches to navigate the preschool playground.
Designing clothing for children with special needs is an area of growing interest and unique challenges.
“No matter what their specific needs are, kids want clothes that are
attractive and comfortable and, maybe most important, clothes that
reflect their personalities,” says Martha Hall, senior fashion designer
in the University of Delaware’s Pediatric Mobility Lab and Design
Hall plans to introduce these concepts in an experimental course at UD this spring.
The course, “FUNctional Design: Innovation in Childrenswear”
(FASH367), will provide students with hands-on learning experiences
through course projects targeting both typically developing and
special-needs kids from newborn to size six.
The course is a logical outgrowth of Hall’s background in the
childrenswear industry and her more recent partnership with researchers
in UD’s GoBabyGo Program on wearable technology, in which assistive
devices are embedded in clothing.
“Bringing attention to fun and functional fashion for children with
special needs has been a game changer,” Hall says. “It’s changing lives
and is a challenge that I can't get enough of.”
The students in Hall’s new class will examine the childrenswear
industry, analyzing the current market, identifying trends, and
forecasting design and marketing opportunities. For their capstone
project, they’ll be paired with kids with developmental disabilities and
The students will begin the design process by interviewing the family
about the child’s need — for example, difficulty with zippers or
sensory issues with fabrics. They will also learn about his or her style
through questions about favorite colors, characters, TV shows, and
interests, and they’ll take the child’s measurements.
The students will then draw sketches to share with their clients so
final designs can be chosen. The last two steps will be initial and
final fittings. The finished products will be shared at a fashion show
on UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus during National Public Health Week (April 6-12).
“This process is so important because our goal is for the kids to
want to wear the clothing,” Hall says. “And I think it will be a great
experience for the students because they seldom have the opportunity to
work directly with the person who will wear the garment.”
Emma Zuckerman, a junior in apparel design, is doing a Winter Session
independent study with Hall on the design of a garment for a
six-year-old girl who has weakness in her hip area.
“The idea is for the piece I’m designing to take the place of a
brace,” Zuckerman says. “It will be slightly less supportive but more
flexible and can be worn under regular clothing. Our goal is for her to
feel comfortable and not stigmatized by wearing an assistive device.”
Hall is seeking families with special-needs children interested in
participating in the course. She also has room for several more students
in the class (prerequisite FASH220).
Email Hall for more information about participating in the class.
About Martha Hall
Martha Hall holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fashion and
apparel studies from the University of Delaware. She is a supplemental
faculty member in the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies and
senior fashion designer in the Pediatric Mobility and Design Studio.
Hall has more than 10 years’ experience in the childrenswear
industry, and she has also worked as a costume designer. Her interests
center on the intersection between health and design, and she enjoys
working with interdisciplinary teams of people to address health
challenges through design solutions.