Designing clothes to empower people with unique needs
Grace Jun, education director at MIT’s Open Style Lab, on combining fashion, science, and occupational therapy to make inclusive designs.
I went to the Rhode Island School of Design for graphic design. I wanted to go into fashion editorial, but I interned at a few fashion magazines, and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I worked at Samsung and designed smartphones. I saw the rise of the wearable with the Apple Watch. There was so much potential with design and technology [other] than having all these apps on your wrist. So I left and went to Parsons for my master’s in design and technology.
My thesis [was] about women who had breast cancer. After surgery, a lot of women wear ice packs on their chests. So we designed tops with inside pockets where the fabric absorbs water from the ice pack — just really small things that could empower women.
[In 2015] I reached out to Open Style Lab. I’ve been hit by a car, so I know what it feels like to not be able to move. My responsibilities at Open Lab were designing the curriculum: How do you integrate the right resources to [let] designers, engineers, and occupational therapists work together?
The [fashion] show is really focused on our four clients and our 12 design fellows. One client is a wheelchair user who needs clothing that’s more breathable. One client has autism. She rips everything apart. For her parents to go through so much clothing is an economic burden. We worked with our partner Bemis to make a seamless [garment] that’s durable and non-rippable.
I love teaching. Soon a lot of the Open Lab [leadership] responsibilities will be transferred to me. I’ll be developing some of the research; I hope to continue it and not just make one-offs. In wearable tech, we can learn a lot from this arena of inclusive design.
This story has been updated to clarify that the Bemis partnership lead to a seamless garment.