If you have followed any fashion, technology, or business news this week, you may have seen Nike’s newest product: the Go FlyEase. While the “hands-free” shoe is being marketed to those of us who have been working from home in pajamas since March as a way to help us be even lazier, it also has the potential to be an incredible tool for an underserved community.
“Innovation and inspiration at Nike often start with the simple act of listening to the voice of the athlete.” According to the Nike website, the inspiration for the Go FlyEase came from a letter written by 16-year-old Matthew Walzer. Walzer explained that he was a life-long admirer of Nike basketball shoes, but his Cerebral Palsy prevented him from being able to tie his own laces. He asked Nike to design a basketball shoe with moderate support and some kind of closure system that could be used by everyone, including those who face physical challenges. And so they did. After years of experiments and variations, there is now a shoe that Walzer and so many others will be able to take on and off without assistance, allowing them to be more independent without losing style points.
Nike’s announcement is just one example of inclusive or adaptive products that help make fashion accessible to people with disabilities. Companies that have made notable efforts in this area include Levi Strauss & Co., Zappos, Tommy Hilfiger, and Target’s Cat & Jack brand. In addition, SPESA member YKK’s Magnet Zippers, released in 2020, are expected to be used in a wide variety of sectors to make it easier for people who may struggle with opening and closing zippers to be able to dress with ease. But, unfortunately, the examples remain somewhat limited.
Last year, on the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the New York Times published a style piece titled “Disabled People Love Clothes Too.” The article lamented the lack of consideration for those with specific needs:
“As a disabled person, I long for the independence and the ability to choose how I express myself; the fashion industry should be a place where that is made possible. Instead only a handful of companies are willing to see us as desirable consumers.”
Over the last year, brands, retailers, and manufacturers have become increasingly aware of the importance of promoting diversity and inclusivity in their workforces. There is a lot to be said for also thinking about the diversity of your consumers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability. That represents 26% of the U.S. adult population — or a potential 26% increase in your customer base.
Creating adaptive products might not be easy. But combined with the growing trends of product customization and on-demand manufacturing, it might be just the innovation and inspiration the industry needs.