Adaptive Apparel That's Fashionable? ABL Denim Meets the Challenge

Innovation often begins with identifying a need. Stephanie Alves was aware of the need for custom clothing design for the disability community, thanks in part to watching family members cope with mobility challenges. She designed jeans for them that met their needs and were also fashionable and well made. This inspired her to launch ABL (Adaptive Brand and Lifestyle) Denim in 2013. According to the company, it is the only manufacturer of adaptive jeans for men, women and children.

As CEO of ABL Denim, Alves applies 25 years of design experience to the task, having worked at prominent fashion houses including Ann Taylor Loft.

The company caters to a niche market that represents 56 million Americans. People of all ages can find dressing difficult due to a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, stroke, autism, tactile sensitivities and arthritis. Whatever their condition, says Alves, "they still want jeans, like everyone else."

For people with such challenges, ABL Denim designs jeans and shorts using premium quality denim and then incorporates features that make them easier and more comfortable to use, including: zipper access through either the front or both sides; longer zippers with larger pulls for greater access; hook and bar easy front closure; higher back waists with elastic that allows for stretching across the back; side pockets for catheter bags or personal items; and ultra-soft denim material and inside-out seams to provide for added comfort for people with sensory issues. One of the most popular designs is a skinny basic jean with inner leg zippers to assist in getting the foot though the leg opening and/or using a catheter. The company plans new designs based on requests that it receives, so customer loyalty and satisfaction is high. This makes the work very fulfilling, according to Alves, who said, "We often hear 'I haven't worn jeans in years and finally I can.'"

The future looks bright for ABL. A $250,000 Mission Main Street grant received in 2014 helped spur development of the company, which recently added dealers in Canada and the U.K. CEO Alves hopes to partner with rehabilitation centers and hospital shops to offer ABL products more widely. Walmart recently became the first mainstream retailer to offer ABL Denim products, available online and in stores. It carries a lower-priced men's jean designed specifically for those with limited mobility. The design incorporates strategic placement of zippers, pockets and seaming, simplifying daily tasks while still providing a fashionable fit. Thoughtful details include lasso-style pull loops on zippers — a boon to those with finger dexterity issues.

ABL Denim is at the leading edge of this niche market, combining top quality materials with ingenious design to empower those with daily physical challenges.