Clothing shopping can be excruciating for a lot of people. There’s a reason we have Petite, Tall, Plus Size, Children’s, Junior’s and other size-specific departments; human beings just aren’t all shaped the same. But up until now there’s been a big (adorable) gap in the marketplace: people with Down syndrome.
Down’s Designs is fixing this problem, one pair of custom-made pants at a time. People with Down syndrome have a unique set of physical characteristics, explains Karen Bowersox, who started the company after she couldn’t find clothing to fit her granddaughter.
“The femur [of those with Down syndrome] is so short, so when you have a pair of pants, a standard size pair of pants, they don’t taper at their knee. They can roll up a shirt sleeve four or five times,” she says in an interview with Fox, adding that that means they often look like they’re playing dress-up in someone else’s clothes.
I got to see how limiting this can be first-hand when I helped my dad do my aunt’s laundry growing up. My Aunt Barbara had a rare genetic syndrome very similar to Down syndrome and so she also had the shorter height, shorter legs and longer torso with a rounded belly. I remember asking my dad why Barbara only had one style of T-shirt and only had sweatpants when her personality was so much bigger than that limited wardrobe. It was, of course, because that’s all they could find that would fit her.
Another thing Barbara struggled with was dressing herself. Her thumbs were deformed and tricky buttons and zippers were not her friend. Yet she wanted to live independently, like the grown-up she was. (And she did, thanks to a lovely group home. My dad made sure her laundry and errands were taken care of but other than that she was her own woman.) Karen thought of that angle too.
“If they’re struggling with buttons and zippers, their independence is taken away,” she explains. “So you see a lot of [people with Down syndrome] wearing sweat pants, so our jeans are not just a pair of pants, they literally can change their life.”
While Karen has been making custom clothing for people of all ages with Down syndrome, demand has out-paced her ability to “Down size” as she calls it. So she recently started a Kickstarter to expand her business. In an example of The Internet Can Be So Wonderful, she blew past her original $5,000 goal and made $22,651.
My aunt passed away several years ago and I wish she could have seen these clothes — she would have been so excited and nothing was more beautiful than Barbara excited. She radiated happiness with her whole body and you couldn’t help but smile watching her, which is exactly what Karen wants.
“When [people with Down syndrome] are forced to wear clothes from everyday stores, the clothing makes them look different. All you see is the Down syndrome,” she said to the Huffington Post. “When they wear our pants and they fit and they look and feel more comfortable, they can be confident in themselves. You don’t see the Down syndrome anymore.”
You just see the person. Which is exactly how it should be.