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Disability Conscious Fashion: Exclusive Interview with Kintsugi Clothing

December 7th is the date of this year’s Small Business Saturday, a grass-roots, not-for-profit event that promotes family businesses, local shops and the work of entrepreneurs from across the UK. In the run up to the day itself the organisers have selected 100 small businesses from across the UK to feature as part of a Small Biz 100 campaign. One of the companies to be featured is Manchester based Kintsugi Clothing, an inclusive clothing brand driven by diversity and representation of marginalised groups, with apparel designed to be fashionable, functional and inclusive of all – including able-bodied fashionistas as well as those with physical impairments and chronic conditions.

I caught up with Kintsugi Clothing founder Emma McClelland to find out how she got started, what her vision is for accessible fashion, and how she will be celebrating her Small Biz 100 feature.


Portia: Tell me about Kintsugi. When was the company founded and what inspired you to start an inclusive fashion brand?

Emma: So, I set up Kintsugi in 2018 after leaving my full-time job at a law firm. We started trading in February 2019 – it took about year to get the core collection designed and the company off the ground. I wanted to start an inclusive brand after seeing a TED Talk by Stephanie Thomas about ‘fashion styling for people with disabilities’ and realised that there was a huge gap in the market because – as Stephanie points out – the fashion industry doesn’t really view disabled people as target consumers. I started talking to people across the disabled community and what I was hearing was that people wanted brands to think more inclusively when designing mainstream items (as opposed to having a completely separate offering that was exclusively for disabled people). That’s where it all started.

Portia: Wow! Amazing that you were so inspired to help a community you had no prior connection to. What was your experience in fashion before launching Kintsugi or did you learn on the job?

Emma: I think because we could all become disabled, whether permanently or temporarily – for instance, after a medical procedure or an accident – it’s something that’s relevant to us all. It was definitely a case of learning on the job [where fashion was concerned], and it’s been a steep learning curve! I went to fashion supplier trade shows, did a course designed by Alison Lewy from Fashion Angel on launching a fashion brand, and worked with a freelance designer to help me.

Portia: I completely agree that accessibility issues and equality for disabled people is something that should be on everybody’s agenda. So, after you did your research you and the designer worked together on creating a range of clothing which is both inclusive and incredibly stylish – I definitely have my eye on numerous pieces from your line, I especially love the disabled women rockabilly pin-up girl tees!

Wider representation artwork aside, what is it that makes your designs different to fashion that mainstream brands are offering?

Emma: Thanks! I’d say what’s different about our designs in comparison to mainstream brands is just that they’re thoughtfully considered when it comes to making them as accessible as possible to as many people and body types as possible. The small tweaks we make are things like having side zips running partway down the side seams of our jeans and trousers rather than a zip and button combination. This removes the pressure point of the button, which can be really uncomfortable, making the trousers easier to get into and allowing people with an ostomy bag for instance to easily access and change it when needed because the front panel can just open outWe use magnet fastenings on tops instead of buttons as buttons can be a pain for people with visual impairments or dexterity challenges. We’ve got pockets lower down the leg so that they’re accessible in the seated position which is much more accessible for wheelchair users than typical hip heighted pockets which are fine when standing but not when sitting.
And then it’s just other little things like not having internal labels so there’s no skin irritation. For people with autism, that can be a big deal.

Kintsugi' is the Japanese art form of mending broken pottery with gold lacquer... showing that the things we might see as our flaws or 'broken bits' are actually what make us unique.

Portia: As someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (a.k.a M.E.) myself, I know that several of the thoughtful design points you have just mentioned would make a huge difference to the comfortability of clothing for me. There’s nothing worse than having to walk around with your jeans undone because you’re having internal pain and can’t stand the pressure from the button! And labels have been bringing me out in rashes for years – I’d happily wave goodbye to internal ones! It’s no wonder you were recently shortlisted for the Entrepreneur for Good Award at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, any further news on the outcome of that?

Emma: The regional finals are on the 15th October, I think, so I should know very soon about that! Fingers crossed! Then the national final is in November.

Portia: All the Cohorted team’s fingers will be crossed for you too!

Emma: Thanks guys!

Portia: You are also one of the featured companies for Small Biz 100 this year, could you tell us a bit more about the Small Business Saturday enterprise this event is a part of?

Emma: Yeah, sure. So, in the countdown to Small Business Saturday on the 7th December (also coincidentally my birthday), the team there allocate a day to each of the 100 small UK businesses they have picked to promote for that year. On each businesses feature day they really highlight the business and what it’s all about.It’s a great way for small business owners in this country to support each other and it’s a fab opportunity to boost your business’s profile.You have to apply to be one of the 100 and I was so chuffed when I realised I’d made the cut!

Portia: Your company is being featured as part of Small Biz 100 on the 4th November. What will you be doing to mark the occasion as a company?

Emma: We’ll be running lots of competitions and giveaways, as well as special discount codes for the day so people can bag a bargain!

Portia: Sounds like a date for our calendars! Finally, I’d love to know, the name Kintsugi Clothing, where does this come from?

Emma: So, kintsugi is the Japanese art form of mending broken pottery with gold lacquer. As a philosophy, it’s so poignant, showing that the things we might see as our flaws or ‘broken bits’ are actually what make us unique. Kintsugi as an art form is about showing how cracks add value rather than take it away. The adaptive clothing market, small as it is, has a lot of companies playing on the words ‘able’ or ‘adapt’ and I didn’t want to do the same. I wanted to pick something that reflects the spirit of the company and what it represents, and kintsugi did exactly that!


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