When Ann Olivier was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), she had no idea that it would launch a new career—as a clothing designer.
Because of her limited range of mobility, she found it challenging not only to get dressed but also to find clothing suitable for a person in a wheelchair. Fashion simply did not have design in mind for people with disabilities.
One evening when she was going to the opera, her gown gathered uncomfortably in her lap as she sat in her wheelchair.
This pivotal moment inspired a London-based clothing line designed for women with disabilities called Xeni.
Olivier explained the significance behind the name of her brand in an interview with The Epoch Times.
“My best friend is Greek. Xeni means foreigner or valued visitor in Greek. I am seeking to wrest the root back from xenophobia to xenophilia,” she said.
Design is not foreign to Olivier. She worked as an architect prior to her debilitating illness but was forced to leave her job as MS limited the mobility in her hands. She uses a wheelchair to get around.
Now Olivier uses her creative skills to develop unique cuts and features that are not available in the marketplace.
She describes the thoughtful innovations behind Xeni’s styles, which address the needs that often confront disabled women: closures that facilitate dressing independently, garments that are wheelchair-friendly, and consideration of other medical devices that may obstruct clothing.
For people with limited dexterity, Olivier steers away from buttons and zippers and prefers incorporating magnets to open and close garments.
“I use the hunting properties that magnets give to induce the two sides of the garments to hunt each other out and close without hand intervention,” she explained.
While also suitable for women who can stand, the clothing is especially designed for women who use wheelchairs.
“I offer dresses, tunics, jackets, and coats that can be put on independently by women who use wheelchairs because they don’t come under the seat,” Olivier said.
She also considers the use of other devices that are used by people with disabilities.
“I use the tunic and trousers look to elongate the body, whilst coping with prosthetic plumbing that many of us need,” she said. “This look removes clutter from the waist, ensuring an elegant outline.”
Since the focal point of a woman in a wheelchair is her shoulder area, the styles enhance the major features of the upper body, while the lap, legs, and feet fade into the background.
The website says: “It is how one creates presence when the body becomes foreshortened in this way that underpins our approach to designing for the fashionable woman in a wheelchair.”
Accessorizing with jewelry, particularly necklaces and earrings, accents the décolletage. She hopes to find a company to create jewelry that doesn’t use difficult closures or “fiddly clasps,” as she refers to them.
Olivier plans to find designers to make handbags for women in wheelchairs. These bags would not fall off the lap easily and would offer greater accessibility to those who have difficulty locating and grasping personal items. She prefers sustainable options too.
Her ultimate goal is to use her business model to create jobs for people.
“At the moment jobs are few and far between, and many people have to take jobs that lead nowhere. I want to establish a well-run business providing a number of people with long-term incomes and prospects. I want Xeni … to be my legacy.”
Thanks to her work, clothing for people with disabilities is no longer a foreign concept. And Olivier’s compassionate outlook could most certainly prove to be a legacy for the future.
For more information about Ann Olivier, please visit her blog and her website at www.xenicollection.com