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Chapter 0: Introduction- A Guide for Adaptive Apparel Design and Soft Goods Product Developers

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    The Need

    More than one billion people, around 15% of the world population, have some form of disability (temporary or permanent) (World Health Organization, 2020). The adaptive clothing market is currently underserved in the apparel marketplace (Mallon, 2019). However, the adaptive clothing market is estimated to grow to nearly $400 billion by 2026 (Gaffney, 2019). In the US, apparel retailers are launching brand extensions and offering adaptive apparel to aid disabled individuals with clothing options (Weinswig & Schmidt, 2021). Apparel design and soft goods product developers need specialized skills and knowledge to design and soft goods product development apparel for individuals experiencing a disability. There is a wide range of disabilities and students need to understand how specific disabilities impact a client’s clothing needs. For example, many disabilities result in non-traditional body types/shapes or require the individual to be seated (Gaffney, 2019). Additionally, cognitive disabilities require understanding sensory apparel problems associated with fabrics, seams, or labels. Apparel designers and soft-good product developers need to be prepared to design for the adaptive apparel market and educators need resources to teach their students these skills.

    Purposes of this Text

    1. Empower current and future apparel design and soft goods product developers with information and resources to positively impact the lives of individuals experiencing a disability through clothing and other soft goods.
    2. Provide students, educators, and working professionals with the specific knowledge and skills to design adaptive apparel and other wearable soft-good products.
    3. Gather adaptive apparel design and product development information from disparate resources.
    4. Create adaptive apparel design and product development resources where information does not exist.
    5. Provide a holistic guide for client-based adaptive apparel projects, in apparel design and soft goods product development courses.
    6. Support the implementation of client-based adaptive apparel projects in any apparel design or product development course and enable faculty to successfully teach this topic to their students.
    7. Support students who elect to focus on adaptive apparel for their assigned apparel design and soft goods product development projects.
    8. Support apparel professionals who want to design apparel for individuals with a disability.

    Goals of this Text

    • Increase apparel design and soft goods product developers’ comprehension of creating for this market.
    • Increase student satisfaction with their educational experiences.
    • Prepare students for the important and emerging adaptive apparel and soft goods market.

    Organization of the Text and How to Use

    The text is organized around the apparel design and soft goods product development process framework. These steps include research, sketching, developing a sample notebook, mood or inspiration board, pattern work, first sample, and the completed ensemble. Users can read the text cover-to-cover or go to the specific section needed for wherever they currently are in their creative process.

    A Resource for Apparel Design and Soft Goods Product Development Educators

    Student learning experiences will be greatly enhanced by adopting the text in courses that apply the design and soft goods product development research process to create solutions that enhance the human experience. The text is ideal for courses where problem-based learning (PBL) and client-based project (CBP) approaches are utilized. Through these approaches, students interact with users to meet their needs, and gain practical experience solving real-world problems in the course of their work (Burns, 1990; Savery & Duffy, 1996). As these courses are structured to encourage creative freedom, the text can be used as a resource when designing for various adaptive requirements.


    Burns, A. C. (1990). The use of live case studies in business education: Pros, cons, and guidelines. In J.W. Gentry (Ed.), Guide to business gaming and experiential learning (pp. 201–215). Kogan.

    Gaffney, A. (2019, July 29). Retail: The $400 billion adaptive clothing opportunity. Vogue business. London.

    Mallon, J. (2019, June 27). Adaptive wear the new activewear, is still an untapped market. Fashion United.

    Savery, J. R., & Duffy, T. M. (1996). Problem based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework In B. Wilson (Ed.), Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instructional design (pp. 31–37). Educational Technology Publications.

    Weinswig, D., & Schmidt, E. (2021). The US adaptive apparel market: Think tank preview–the retail opportunity in clothing for people with disabilities. Coresight.

    World Health Organization. (2020, December 1). Disability and health.


    We are thankful to doctoral student, Sunhyung Cho, for her research assistance with this book. Sunhyung created the croquis and illustrations of adaptive apparel notions that appear throughout this open educational resource.

    We are thankful to the Iowa State University Miller Open Education Mini-Grant Program for financial support in the development of this book.

    We are thankful to Abbey Elder, Iowa State University Open Access and Scholarly Communication Librarian, for ongoing support for efforts with project management, locating resources, and accomplishing review, design, and production work.

    Chapter 0: Introduction- A Guide for Adaptive Apparel Design and Soft Goods Product Developers is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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