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Clothing Store To Cater To People With Special Needs

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Neil Sherman’s father lived to 90, which was good.

But toward the end he couldn’t dress himself, and Sherman took to buying sweatpants, then cutting the elastic bands out of the ankles so his father’s caregiver could more easily get them on and off.

Which helped spawn a business idea: A store stocked with clothes designed specifically for people who are physically challenged — people with disabilities, with missing limbs, people in wheelchairs, people who simply have trouble raising their arms above their head.

The Internet offers access to so-called adaptive clothing. But you can’t feel the fabric on the computer screen, and you can’t really tell whether what seems like a becoming shade of periwinkle will actually complement your features.

Enter Sherman and business partner Lisa Brodacz, who on Sept. 20 will open Accessible Wear in what used to be a vitamin shop in West Allis, Wis.

“I’ve come across so many friends who have had problems with their parents, sisters, brothers who need all this care, and they can’t find clothing for them,” said Brodacz, a former sales director for the Wisconsin Bankers Association. “You can’t find this at a Target or a Kohl’s or a Boston Store. It’s specialty clothing.”

Drawing on personal savings — they haven’t borrowed for their start-up capital — Brodacz and Sherman are filling the 2,500 square-foot shop with easy-to-use items of clothing.

“Some have snaps, some have Velcro, some have magnets,” Sherman said.

The inventory includes a line of magnet-equipped shirts worn by, among others, Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench. Other clothes come from Canadian couture designer Izzy Camilleri, who has created fashions that fit well on women seated in wheelchairs.

Brodacz and Sherman may have a good-sized market.

According to the Disability Statistics Center at the University of California, San Francisco, there are 1.7 million wheelchair or scooter riders in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, estimates that 4.3 million Americans find it difficult or impossible to grasp small objects — think buttons or zipper talons — and 6.6 million have the same trouble reaching over their head.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Diana Sullivan said of the soon-to-open shop.

She’s more than familiar with the challenges. Sullivan is disability rights and access specialist at advocacy and resource group IndependenceFirst. And her daughter, who died four years ago at age 26, lived with multiple disabilities that required clothing adaptations such as cutting the back out of a winter jacket and sewing in an extra panel so it could be wrapped around her wheelchair.

“There really weren’t things that were readily, easily bought at stores, so we had to kind of think outside of the box,” Sullivan said.

Jill Potkay likes the Accessible Wear idea, too. A 32-year-old Milwaukee resident who uses a wheelchair, Potkay finds that “things like buttons and hooks are difficult for me.”

And she said pants simply aren’t designed to fit well on someone sitting in a wheelchair — they’re not long enough and tend to bunch up. “It looks like you’re wearing short pants,” Potkay said.

Brodacz said she and Sherman already have been contacting assisted-living centers about visiting them with clothing samples in a sort of trunk show. Response has been positive.

She feels the store will offer advantages over Internet shopping because “you know what you’re buying, and you can try it on.” The shop also will employ a seamstress.

“So we can hem the pants, take in the sleeve,” Sherman said. “We can do easy alterations right away.”

Like Brodacz, Sherman doesn’t have any background in retailing clothing. He’s retired from the heating and air-conditioning field. “This is new to us, but we get it, and we understand who we’re trying to please,” he said.

“We can’t cure anyone, but we can make their life easier.”

© 2013 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Comments (15 Responses)

  1. amy says:

    YOU guys rock!

  2. soricobob says:

    Not for nothing, but J.C. Penney has been selling this stuff for decades, mostly to the elderly.

  3. Melissa says:

    THANKS SO MUCH! My son is not currently using a wheelchair but has other disabilities and is unable to wear pants with zippers/buttons/snaps so he always wears elastic waisted sweatpants. It would be wonderful if he could have nice looking soft denim, khaki or corduroy pants with an elastic waist….he is 20 years old. I applaud your initiative and wish you much success in this new retail store – I only wished I lived closer – will you consider an online store too? I am in NY. Thank you

  4. Patty Sprofera says:

    Wishing everyone, at Accessible Wear, much success. The full site will be up in a few days. However, there is an e-mail address and a telephone listed on the site.

  5. Ryan Kempf says:

    do they have a Website

  6. Amy says:

    can’t wait for your website!!!! and Can’t wait to see photos of your opening day!

  7. Laurie says:

    This is terrific! As my 14 year old son with autism continues to learn how to button and zip pants, but is about to outgrow the largest size of Land’s End clothing in children’s sizes (their “Iron Knee” pull-on pants have been a mainstay in his wardrobe for years), I have often wondered if there is a market out there for clothing for people who face challenges putting on “typical” clothing.

  8. Suzette says:

    This seems great for the elderly and people in wheelchairs, but there are a couple of places on the internet already that do that. Anything for people with Down Syndrome, who sometimes have shorter arms and legs? After a lot of work, my teenage son can now do buttons and zippers (sometimes not all the way up) and a belt, but slacks or jeans always have to be altered for length. Also, I hope this new place will have styles that appeal to young people so they can fit in with their peers. Just a few thoughts…

  9. Suzette says:

    Also, like Melissa, I’d like to see elastic-waist pants that look more like slacks or jeans than sweatpants or track pants.

  10. Paula says:

    Simply wonderful!

  11. candy baka says:

    I think this is a MUCH needed area. I wish them the best,a nd hope to see their apparel store come closer to our area. I have a multiple diabled son, and the type of material makes a huge difference in whether he will wear it or not.

  12. ruth redmond says:

    My adult son has Down Syndrome. I have only found Haband, a mail in clothing company, where I have been able to find him nice clothing, but only in pants. I hope your company takes off great but a line for persons who have Down Syndrome, will be a large part of it’s items. Wide necks, wide ankles, 22 to 28 or so inseams, shorter arm lengths, elastic waistbands for their independence, wider waist sizes and winter clothing, hats, coats, gloves with shorter fingers, etc. Haband is OK but they often get the order wrong and do not give them a credit card or they start sending “free gifts” that can turn into an automatic withdrawal from your account, I will only send personal checks. Not to mention if you call them, good luck getting a person who speaks understandable English that you can understand. I always have to tell them how to spell the name Ruth. I want a made in USA company that you can trust and understand.

  13. Ruth J Clark says:

    Hello,
    I am very pleased to learn of this new store and would like to contact them. Could you please provide contact information for me, or pass mine onto them
    Thank you
    Ruth J Clark

  14. Thomas C. Wood says:

    As an autistic with cerebral palsy who has to wear diapers and plastic pants, on my “wish list” is adult-sized “Bib Overalls”, waist 44″, length 30″ with “snaps in the crotch” which would be “so helpful” for me in “changing” my own diapers.

  15. melissa says:

    I am very excited about this because I am constantly altering or fixing my son’t clothing. Even a Jean heavy duty button with heavy duty zippers won’t work

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