Parsons and the Special Olympics Push For More Inclusive Apparel

Last month The New School’s Parsons School of Design showcased the inspiring creations that students made using CLO as part of the school’s “Special Olympics x Parsons School of Fashion Inclusive Design Collaboration”. Among the attendees of the presentation were athletes, Parsons students and faculty, and special guests like fashion photographer Nigel Barker and representatives from the Women’s Tennis Association.

In recent years, we have seen the fashion industry push for inclusivity across many different underrepresented communities. Brands have taken steps in the right direction when it comes to size-inclusive apparel, as well as race and gender identity, but it seems that those with intellectual or physical disabilities are often overlooked or left out of the conversation completely. This collaboration with the Special Olympics represents a real push for more inclusive apparel across the board. “Together with Special Olympics, we co-created, designed and established a collab class with an intricate co-design, human-centered systems-thinking and partnership methodology,” said Brendan McCarthy, Systems and Materiality BFA Program Director at Parsons. “It can be used as a model for fashion and athletic/performance design houses, businesses more broadly and educational institutions to re-think how they approach critical issues around equity, inclusion, social justice, specifically for one of the most marginalized communities, those with intellectual disabilities.”

The Parsons students and Special Olympics athletes designed the uniforms equally.

The partnership originally began in Spring of 2020 when the Special Olympics enlisted Parsons students to design figure skating uniforms. The success of that initiative led Parsons to do more with the Special Olympics. The teams used CLO to reimagine representation and body diversity, and to develop engineered garments that were made specifically for Special Olympics athletes. This year the partnership ended up leading to designs for tennis and track and field. Daniel Fletcher, a 33-year-old athlete spoke of competing in nine sports for Special Olympics New York and the importance of the Parsons design project to him. “I love to talk about what Special Olympics means to me. I am so proud to be a part of the Parsons project and I love the designs that the students made me to use. Thank you for listening to me and making me look good.”

“We hope that the class demonstrates through co-design, human-centered systems thinking and technology that there is no reason a Special Olympics athlete and people with intellectual disabilities cannot be a fashion designer, creative director and leader in any company,” Brendan McCarthy said. “We absolutely would love to see companies adopt this methodology and want to partner with them to implement this desperately needed change.”

Check out more of the students work from this project below:

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