Every week, we’re shining a spotlight on the best small brands we think are worth shouting about. We love our great British high street, but there are so many fantastic independent brands out there making clothes, accessories, homewares and more from a place of passion and love and we need to support them – now more than ever.
From fashion and beauty to homeware and accessories, we’ll be bringing you the best small businesses you need on your radar. This week we chat to Victoria Jenkins, founder of Unhidden, the adaptive fashion brand making stylish clothing for disabled people.
How did Unhidden come about?
The spark for Unhidden started during one of many hospital stays [in 2012, Victoria fell seriously ill and has spent the last nine years being diagnosed with a variety of gastrointestinal conditions that put her in the disability community] after speaking with a cancer patient about the lack of dignity and access that standard clothing gave her to her own body. I hadn’t even considered that I myself would have benefitted from adaptive design, and I work in fashion! [Victoria has worked as a garment technologist on fashion lines for Victoria Beckham, Tesco, Primark and Jack Wills].
The more I researched adaptive design, the scale of the problem hit me and just how many people need an adaptive design – imagine waking up one day unable to wear your entire wardrobe? Eighty per cent of people with disabilities are not born that way, that’s a lot of mental anguish that damages our sense of self.
The disabled community is still invisible, barely represented in the media even though we account for 15 per cent of the global population – we are very much hidden from view, so I chose the name because we should be proudly Unhidden.
What three words would you use to describe Unhidden?
Stylish, adaptive, inclusive.
Who is the Unhidden customer?
Anyone. While the range is designed for people with disabilities, the adaptations are in fact hidden. Someone who wants well made high-quality fashion from an ethical small brand – that’s where we sit. Each design tries to resolve as many needs as it can in one, but there are some very specific needs we cater to as well that won’t work for everyone (seated trousers for wheelchair users, for example).
Where does inspiration come from for your designs?
I suppose I am a bit old school French chic – I have always adored Yves Saint Laurent, Celine (old Celine), so it’s trying to marry classic and simple design but updated with ethical fabric and adaptive features. For the existing collection, it was about marrying formal with classic tailoring and a minimal aesthetic.
How is designing clothes for disabled bodies different to designing clothes for non-disabled bodies?
I don’t find it so different. It’s an extra step to consider, ‘what would help ‘if’ I had XYZ condition’ and then finding people and asking what they need, what would help. A lot of the time it is an extra zip, a magnet instead of a button and a small pattern change.
Is Unhidden striving to be sustainable in any way?
Yes, it is as core as is being adaptive! I couldn’t in good conscious add to the negative impact fashion already has, especially as it affects marginalised groups first (and the disabled community is the largest marginalised group in the world). So we use deadstock cloth, plastic-free packaging and, for now, we are made to order so we are not over-producing either, although I do hope to make small-run production soon.
Do you have a favourite Unhidden piece?
It’s so tough to decide. I think it is a tie between the wrap front trouser, as they are insanely comfortable for me as well as stylish and have so many features that help me and others, and then the black silk shirt (technically the men’s shirt but I think it’s pretty unisex), which is just really soft and luxurious feeling.
Anything exciting planned for the brand this year?
We have our first ever pop-up shop on 20 May for one day only, which is a fantastic opportunity and makes us the first adaptive brand ever sold on London’s high street.
We are then also at The Essex Beauty show in August (20-22) as the only adaptive and sustainable brand, which is very exciting, too.
Our Kickstarter that finished on 11 April will soon have all the rewards shipped – included in that is my first ever book The Little Book of Ableism (£20, unhiddenclothing.com), which is sort of a coffee book guide on language and allyship for the disabled community that I really believe will help non-disabled people understand the barriers we face and how they can alter the way they view disability.
The biggest overall plan is to expand the range and help more people live a dignified, stylish life. We’ll be filming adaptive alteration workshops so people can learn how to adapt their own clothes and we’re trialling an adaptive alteration service so people can upcycle their clothes to be adaptive and not have to buy whole new wardrobes.