New York, London, Milan, Paris and now...Birmingham! Twenty patients from our hospital have had their turn strutting the catwalk at an adaptive clothing fashion show, in clothes specially designed to meet their needs by students from South and City College Birmingham.

People with physical disabilities often find themselves at a disadvantage when shopping for clothes, with mainstream high street stores not catering for their needs, and specialist retailers creating unflattering and unstylish garments. Altogether, it makes for a very frustrating and often costly experience for disabled people and one which Dr. Andrea Jester, consultant plastic surgeon at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, has heard about time and time again from her patients and their families.

It’s what led her to get in touch with the School of Fashion at South and City College Birmingham, to see if it could support with a special fashion show, which would not only uplift and empower her patients, but also raise the awareness of the need for more adaptive clothing with the fashion community.

Dr. Andrea Jester said: “I care for patients with a whole range of physical disabilities. They may have longer or shorter limbs, be in a wheelchair, hooked up to wires or an amputee. Each disability comes with a unique set of challenges when it comes to clothing. What is available for these patients just isn’t good enough and the fashion industry must do more to be inclusive and cater for this community, which is why I approached South and City College Birmingham for their support.”

After hearing from a passionate Dr. Jester, the School of Fashion at the college was excited to come on board, with second year Higher National Diploma students paired with different patients. Over the last few months, the pairs have been working together on their designs in anticipation of the fashion show, which took place at the college’s Digbeth campus. Their creations included a casual outfit and an eveningwear piece, which the patients proudly wore down the catwalk.

One of the patient models who took to the runway is 15-year-old Evie Jones, from Shrewsbury. Evie was just nine-years-old when she developed sepsis, after unknowingly falling ill with pneumonia, stemming from a Strep A infection. Evie was transferred by blue lights to Birmingham Children’s Hospital, but by the time she arrived, she had started going into multi-organ failure and was fighting for her life. She was at risk of losing all four of her limbs.

Evie battled on and stayed in hospital for a total of three months, but unfortunately, she developed necrosis to her left forefoot and some of the toes on her right foot, which couldn’t be saved. Five years on, in August last year, Evie was back at our hospital to have her left foot completely amputated, due to irreparable damage the sepsis caused to the growth plates in her foot. She has since been fitted with a prosthetic foot.

The whole experience had a massive impact on Evie and a big knock on her confidence. As if that wasn’t enough, she has had the challenge of finding shoes that fit her, or are comfortable enough to wear, and she now has the new challenge of finding clothes to fit over her large prosthetic.    

Evie said: “I’ve been through so much, and naturally I have my ups and downs and insecurities about my disability. Unfortunately, having to find clothes I can wear – let alone fashionable clothes – is a real struggle, and can often impact my confidence. However, being part of this fashion show has really been a turning point for me and made me want to celebrate my differences.

“My eveningwear outfit is a two piece, with a slit in the skirt to show off my prosthetic foot. I absolutely love fashion, and to have the opportunity to pair up with a student from the college and work on a design together has been a dream come true!”

Carmen Burkett, Lecturer in Fashion and Textiles, said: “The hospital approached us pre-covid and we were very excited about the project, especially because the area of adaptive clothing has been overlooked by the industry. Our Higher National Diploma programme aims to get learners ready for the world of work, so this was ideal experience for them. We have enjoyed each stage of meeting the children through to watching their designs come to life.”

Surbjit Singh, Head of School for Art, Design and Fashion, added: “This has been an extraordinary experience for our learners and all staff involved. We are proud to be able to give back to the community through this project and our students have really gained insight into new ways of constructing garments for this customer group.”

Following the success of the adaptive fashion show, it’s something Dr. Jester hopes can become an annual event with South and City College Birmingham, especially as funds raised from ticket sales and a charity raffle at the event will be going to support the work of the Hand and Reconstructive Limb Department at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. The event raised over £6,800 for Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity.

Dr. Jester said: “The fashion show we were able to put on with South and City College Birmingham demonstrates just how fashion-forward adaptive clothing can be. With the support of the college, and creativity of their students, I can’t wait to see how the adaptive fashion industry develops to the benefit of my patients.”