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News FUNctional fashion 2/9/2015

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New course focuses on innovation in children's clothing

Fashion and Apparel Studies student Emma Zuckerman (left) and Martha Hall work on a garment designed for a child with special needs.

The sparkly pink dress that looked so cute on the mannequin might not look so cute when it bunches up around the legs of a little girl in a wheelchair. And that cool Superman T-shirt might not be very comfortable on the little boy who uses crutches to navigate the preschool playground.

Designing clothing for children with special needs is an area of growing interest and unique challenges.

“No matter what their specific needs are, kids want clothes that are attractive and comfortable and, maybe most important, clothes that reflect their personalities,” says Martha Hall, senior fashion designer in the University of Delaware’s Pediatric Mobility Lab and Design Studio.

Hall plans to introduce these concepts in an experimental course at UD this spring. 

The course, “FUNctional Design: Innovation in Childrenswear” (FASH367), will provide students with hands-on learning experiences through course projects targeting both typically developing and special-needs kids from newborn to size six.

The course is a logical outgrowth of Hall’s background in the childrenswear industry and her more recent partnership with researchers in UD’s GoBabyGo Program on wearable technology, in which assistive devices are embedded in clothing.

“Bringing attention to fun and functional fashion for children with special needs has been a game changer,” Hall says. “It’s changing lives and is a challenge that I can't get enough of.”

The students in Hall’s new class will examine the childrenswear industry, analyzing the current market, identifying trends, and forecasting design and marketing opportunities. For their capstone project, they’ll be paired with kids with developmental disabilities and their families.

The students will begin the design process by interviewing the family about the child’s need — for example, difficulty with zippers or sensory issues with fabrics. They will also learn about his or her style through questions about favorite colors, characters, TV shows, and interests, and they’ll take the child’s measurements.

The students will then draw sketches to share with their clients so final designs can be chosen. The last two steps will be initial and final fittings. The finished products will be shared at a fashion show on UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus during National Public Health Week (April 6-12).

“This process is so important because our goal is for the kids to want to wear the clothing,” Hall says. “And I think it will be a great experience for the students because they seldom have the opportunity to work directly with the person who will wear the garment.”

Emma Zuckerman, a junior in apparel design, is doing a Winter Session independent study with Hall on the design of a garment for a six-year-old girl who has weakness in her hip area. 

“The idea is for the piece I’m designing to take the place of a brace,” Zuckerman says. “It will be slightly less supportive but more flexible and can be worn under regular clothing. Our goal is for her to feel comfortable and not stigmatized by wearing an assistive device.”

Hall is seeking families with special-needs children interested in participating in the course. She also has room for several more students in the class (prerequisite FASH220). 

Email Hall for more information about participating in the class.

About Martha Hall

Martha Hall holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fashion and apparel studies from the University of Delaware. She is a supplemental faculty member in the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies and senior fashion designer in the Pediatric Mobility and Design Studio.

Hall has more than 10 years’ experience in the childrenswear industry, and she has also worked as a costume designer. Her interests center on the intersection between health and design, and she enjoys working with interdisciplinary teams of people to address health challenges through design solutions.

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A new course provides students with hands-on learning experiences through design projects targeting typically developing and special-needs children.
A new Fashion and Apparel Studies course provides students with hands-on learning experiences through design projects that target both typically developing and special-needs children.
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  • Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies
  • 211 Alison Hall West
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-8714
  • United States Fashion Industry Association