MEXICO CITY —Tear-away skirts, blouses that burst open, and velcro-fastened bras that come off with one deft snap of the fingers.
It might sound like the outfit shed by a nightclub stripper, but this is actually a new clothing line in Mexican fashion designed to help people with disabilities gain better control over their lives by making it easier to dress and undress independently — and stylishly.
People living with Alzheimer’s, diabetics, arthritics and people living with blindness are just some of the clients that Jose Merla, designer and co-founder of the ‘Ioolot’ brand, is targeting with his new line of clothing — the only line of fashionable clothing of its kind designed for Latin America's elderly and disabled populations.
The idea, Merla says, is to help people living independently with disabilities to feel attractive, fashionable, and sexy — instead of dressing like patients in boring, practical clothing inspired by hospital gowns.
“If you have no control over your own fingers, buttoning up becomes a frustrating chore and emotional issue," Merla told Fusion. "When you're used to using all your time to get dressed alone, it affects your quality of life. So the mission of the project is to make a difference for these people.”
Merla and co-founder Alejandro Nuñez have more than 20 clothing designs for both men and women. Their line include sweaters, shirts and underwear, designed with discreet velcro strips to replace buttons and zippers.
Their “Easygoing” pants, which have won international acclaim in the fashion world for their design, are have an easy-open front flap to replace a zipper or button fly, allowing people with restricted movement to visit the bathroom unassisted.
Merla said he was inspired to create the pants — his first design that inspired a clothing line — after a series of strokes left his grandfather paralyzed in one leg.
“He could stand, but if you're holding yourself up by your hands how can you open up your pants at the same time?" Merla said. Then he got the idea for the Easygoing paints design.
Jazzcynthia Chaparro became one of Ioolot's first clients after a freak accident – falling from a chair — left her paraplegic. Although she still has some movement in her hands, buttons are always a struggle.
Now, Ioolot clothing make up most of her wardrobe and she collaborates with the company to create new functional designs.
“This looked like a good idea; a brand that cared to make clothes for people who have disabilities so that they can dress as they want and actually be able to put the stuff on,” said Chaparro, who also works as a psychologist.
There's a potentially large market for this type of clothing in Mexico, where 5 percent of the population suffers from some type of disability and the elderly population tops 10 million, according to national census data.
But with much of Mexico's population living below the poverty line, Ioolot's speciality clothing —priced at around $40 per item —is over budget for many Mexicans.
“People here make their own clothes,” said Rosy Diaz, director of activity programs for seniors at a government clinic in Mexico City. “Most of the elderly people in our programs have pensions of no more than $300 per month, so they simply can’t afford this type of clothing."
One of Rosy's therapy clients, 78-year-old Alicia Mondragon, says she finds that the fashionable velcro-fastened garments wear out quickly, so she prefers to modify her current clothing.
“I always use comfortable trousers, blouses and flat shoes and I only buy a dress or blouse once a year with my Christmas extra pension money,” she said.