Two years ago, Shalini Visakan, a fashion designer, realised that the clothes in the market weren’t really doing the job for her wheelchair-bound husband, Visakan. “My husband uses a wheel-chair and whenever we had to travel, he would need to be picked up, because of which he often had shoulder dislocations. So, I attached two belts, like handles, on either side of his pants. This makes it easier for us to lift him up,” she explains.
It was then that the possibility of designing clothes specially for persons with disability came to her. Her next project was designing for her aunt, who is also wheelchair-bound. “She could not wear sarees and go to the temple. So, she used to only wear nighties. I designed a saree for her with pleats and blouse attached. It’s like a one-piece,” she says.
From there, it was a clear journey to Suvastra Designs, her adaptive clothing brand for persons with disabilities, which Shalini is set to launch at Hilton Chennai on Sunday.
Shalini says she decided to launch Suvastra Designs because she saw a very specific need that was going unserved. “There are brands which provide plus size clothing options, but nothing for persons with disabilities. That is why I want to start a brand, and also open a boutique for them,” said Shalini.
One of the main challenges for Shalini was making improvements and customisations based on the specific needs created by different disabilities. “Everyone has different problems. For people who have spinal cord problems, it is difficult for them to make fine finger movements, so I use Velcro, magnetic buttons and zips in their clothes,” Shalini explains.
Shalini did much of the research for her designs through conversations with students and their parents at Vidyasagar, an institution for persons with disabilities. “Based on what they had to say, I began designing clothes. But I’m still doing more research, because people face many different problems,” she said.
Her first collection going on display at the show at the Hilton, consists of ten Indo-Western party outfits, five for men and five for women. “I have mainly used cotton and linen fabrics as these fabrics are most comfortable, says Shalini. The ten outfits being showcased have been designed specifically for the models in the show – four women students from Vidyasagar, three other working professionals, and Shalini’s husband.
Shalini says that the exhibition is aimed at giving people a sense of what Suvastra Designs can offer, after which she will take orders that will be customised for people based on the specific needs to which their disabilities give rise.
While that might sound much like any other boutique, Visakan, Shalini’s husband, points out that the kind of customisations Suvastra offers, are not available with other boutiques. “A few small changes in my outfits help me be less dependent on others. If we go to tailors, even for small changes, they say we can make two churidars in the time we make alterations for you. So, such a clothing brand is very useful for us,” he said.