Imagine wanting to wear the latest clothing styles but you struggle with sensory issues or have difficulties pulling up a zipper or manipulating a button? One woman, a grandmother, took on the challenge so those with Down syndrome, autism and other disabilities can be on the fashion forefront.
Downs Designs Dreams is an organization founded on love. Founded by Karen Bowersox, the company is motivated to meet the Activities of Daily Living (ADL) needs of individuals who struggle to find appropriate clothing that is stylish, comfortable and aids in independent dressing. People with disabilities are often forgotten in the fashion world so Downs Designs Dreams strives to make a difference. Karen’s company advocates disability awareness, promotes independence and instills confidence through their special clothing line.
What inspired you to start the company?
I have a granddaughter who was born with Down syndrome. As I watched her grow, I noticed she was always tripping over her pants that were too long and her sleeves were always dipping into her cereal bowl. I started researching online for clothing for a person with Down syndrome and realized there was nothing available. My mind wouldn’t stop thinking about ways I could make clothes that were appropriate for her unique body shape.
I called our local design school and spoke with several teachers who suggested I hire a designer and create a line of clothing that would be suitable. They recommended Jillian, a young graduate of their program. We met, I hired her immediately, and in January of 2010, Downs Designs® was born.
Where did you begin?
At first I thought I would make an entire wardrobe…oh how hard could that be? Then I went to the bank and thought I could pick up $500,000. Oh boy, did that idea get slammed in my face. But I didn’t let that stop me. Jill and I talked about what we could make if could only make one thing. Well, everyone needs a great pair of jeans, we thought, so we began our journey with just a pair of jeans.
It took almost four years to create a pair of jeans for all ages. We started at about age 2 as that is when most children start walking. It took four years to develop 18 styles of jeans to suit unique body shapes at all ages.
What happened next?
In 2014, I saw an even bigger population with a need for stretchy, stylish pull-on jeans…MEN of standards sizes who struggle to manipulate buttons and zippers. I already had a great factory making my Downs Designs® Jeans, it was an easy transition to standard sizes.
I call these jeans NBZ® Jeans (no button, zipperless jeans). They are made of soft, stretchy denim, have an elastic waistband and no button or zipper. They are very stylish and no one would know they were pull-on jeans. I don’t make women’s jeans at this time because women can find jeans that pull on without buttons or zippers, so why try to compete in that market?
After we finished the men’s NBZ® Jeans, I worked on a boys’ line of our stylish, pull-on jeans. Statistics show that autism is now one out of 68 births (and 5 to 1 are boys) and that is just one disability that may inhibit independent dressing. We are now helping a diverse group of men and boys feel confident and independent; improving the quality of their lives.
This year, Downs Designs Dreams was formed as a 501(c)3 (pending) corporation and both brands are now sold under one entity. The transition to a nonprofit will help our organization accomplish its mission of reaching out to more people in need and better servicing more individuals with disabilities and their families.
Who is your ideal customer?
Any individual who has been forced into living with limited dressing options.
Do you see those in the autism community wearing your jeans?
Members within the spectrum and their families have been very pleased with the comfort, convenience, style and feel of our jeans. Granted, they may not be the solution for all, but it certainly can help so many. Our NBZ® line offers three beneficial characteristics:
- They are made of denim containing a small percent of spandex allowing them to be soft and stretchy.
- The elastic waistband is an easy-to-manage and comfortable fit.
- They do not have zippers or buttons; however they are designed to look as if they do.
We have had many parents come to us and say their children only wanted to wear sweat pants because nothing else felt comfortable to them. Now they love wearing their NBZ® Jeans and can feel and dress like their peers.
Those with fine motor skills difficulties can pull up their own pants or take them off with ease. The independence and confidence they gain now that they are able to dress without assistance or go to the bathroom on their own is invaluable.
How important is it for your customers to be able to have stylish clothing options?
Unfortunately, we are often judged on our first appearance. And if people are forced to wear poorly fitting clothes this can be a very negative stereotype especially for those with disabilities who have limited dressing options. The fashion world seems to have forgotten people with disabilities who have dressing challenges and we hope we can change that through our Downs Designs Dreams creations.
Right now you offer a line jeans, will you be offering other types of clothing in the future?
Yes, we are currently designing casual dress pants in khaki and black so we can offer pants appropriate for school, work, and more formal settings. Eventually we hope to have a full clothing line for people with Down syndrome because they struggle in so many more areas besides pants. For our NBZ® brand, we are currently working on a women’s line as well because if we are going to be donating our pants into schools and communities to those in need, we will need to offer a female version as well.
What’s the big dream for Downs Designs Dreams?
Since I began this journey almost five years ago, I’ve had a vision. I see children with disabilities in schools everywhere are sitting quietly in their seats. When the bell rings, they’re off to the bathroom where they proudly can pull their own pants down and no longer need help from their aid. “Mary,” who has Down syndrome, just got a compliment on her new dress from Downs Designs Dreams.
“Bobby” is eight years old and is autistic. His mom just bought him new pair of NBZ® Jeans from Downs Designs Dreams and he loves how they feel. He thinks he’s cool today and needed no help getting dressed before school.
“Jimmy” has Down syndrome and just got a new job at McDonald’s. He’s so excited about his new position, but when they told him he had to wear black pants every day, he wasn’t worried. He just bought a new pair last month from Downs Designs Dreams and knew he would look his best on his first day on the job.
No more will kids or adults with disabilities feel out of place, uncomfortable or feel like they don’t fit in. Downs Designs Dreams is providing quality, stylish clothing to enrich the lives of people with disabilities and help them live a more satisfying and happier life.
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Images courtesy of Downs Designs Dreams