Would You Buy A Jacket Designed For Someone In A Wheelchair?

Posted on March 12, 2015

One of these rain jackets was created for someone in a wheelchair. The other? For someone on a bike.


Cleverhood, the brainchild of Susan Mocarski is a cape designed for bicycle commuters. Cleverhood has become a successful and sustainable, highly respected American made company. But early on, Susan discovered her capes were perfectly suited for an entirely different (and seemingly contradictory) customer base. Disabled people.

Rayn Jacket

The Rayn Jacket on the other hand, is the very first inclusive product to come out of Open Style Lab. Open Style Lab is an educational program (originating at MIT) that pairs design, engineering and rehabilitative students with user centered design challenges.

Ryan, a wheelchair user showed up saying he wanted a rain jacket that covered his lap. Being a competitive biker before his injury, Ryan described himself as a “hoodie type of guy”. And a hoodie is what Ryan got. Quite literally.

Rayn Jacket Gif

But Grace Teo of Open Style Lab now finds herself in the same situation as Susan from Cleverhood. The Rayn Jacket is perfectly suited for an entirely different (and seemingly contradictory) customer base. Able-bodied People. Here’s how Grace puts it:

“It’s for everyone. Sports spectators, bikers, campers, or just someone waiting for their bus outside. The Rayn Jacket keeps you dry and comfortable regardless of abilities.”

What makes this situation so incredible is that neither Grace nor Susan has shied away from the ‘outliers’, a trend that so often happens in mainstream retail. Both Grace and Susan are embracing every single one of their customers. Grace has images of bicycle commuters donning Open Style Lab’s Rayn Jacket. And Susan is planning a photoshoot of a Wheelchair model sporting a Cleverhood as soon as the snow clears up.

So I am left wondering what you, the consumer would buy. We are all drawn to products designed specifically for our needs. But would you purchase a product that was not created for your needs, even if it fits? Would you, the avid cyclist purchase a jacket made for somebody in a wheelchair? Would you, the wheelchair user feel all that thrilled if a cyclist wore your jacket when you so rarely get beautiful products made just for you? Would you, the wheelchair user choose the Rayn Jacket over Cleverhood because of who it was made for? What are our allegiances as consumers? What does it matter?


This is why Open Style Lab and Cleverhood are so wonderful to watch in tandem. They have both created beautiful products, befitting of all lifestyles. But they’re leaving it up to you, the consumer to realize that. Susan told me about a Cleverhood customer that navigates the world with a walker. That customer found his way to Cleverhood.com, saw photos of bicycle riders in capes, and realized this was exactly what he needed. And it worked perfectly, the cape covered the man and his walker.

Disabled people have been forced to employ this sort of creativity for eons. Clothing hacks are the basis of most disability design. Oftentimes products made for sport are used in place of a product that doesn’t exist. The most obvious example is the use of tennis balls on the legs of walkers. It is my hope that Grace Teo and Open Style Lab will provide the world with the reversal of this rule. So would you, the able bodied person ever purchase a jacket designed for someone with a disability? Could you ever see someone in a wheelchair wearing a jacket that covers their lap and think to yourself ‘I need my lap covered too!’?

Rayn Jacket

Cleverhood has been around for some time now. Their capes come in some incredible designs. Their website is a lot of fun to browse. I highly recommend you check it out.

Open Style Lab, on the other hand, is just getting started and could use your help. The Rayn Jacket is now on Betabrand, a crowdfunding platform. By simply voting for the Rayn Jacket you can help bring it to life. You can also check out the rest of their products on Open Style Lab.

I will be actively updating this post with news of the Rayn Jacket as well as future Cleverhood photos and designs. In the meantime, here are two related posts that you might also find interesting.

The Stigma of the MLB Pitchers Padded Cap

The Paradox of Featuring Fashion Week Models with Disabilities

Thank you Susan and Grace for your time and thought! I can’t wait to see what you both come up with next!


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What Others Are Saying

  1. Grace Teo March 12, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks for the feature Liz! Cleverhood was one of our inspirations when Open Style Lab was just getting started, so grateful for the honor of being featured in the same article as them 🙂 We’re just seeing the start of fashion that brings in more user input and responds to real people needs I think!

    On that note, check out the words of top fashion forecaster, Li Edelkoort, in her manifesto on the end of fashion: “Fashion education should be, amongst other things, the industrial design of fashion; fashion as highly industrial design.”

    • The Girl with the Purple Cane March 15, 2015 at 12:41 am

      I finally feel like I’m on the same page as someone in the fashion industry: “Edelkoort said her interest in fashion had now been replaced by an interest in clothes, since fashion has lost touch with what is going on in the world and what people want.”

  2. susan mocarski March 12, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Great conversation starter! Thanks Liz, flattered to be included. For exciting things happening in design definitely follow the inspiring work of Open Style Lab http://www.openstylelab.com/

  3. Kira March 12, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    Very interesting perspective, Liz. As one of the team members to originally conceptualize the Rayn Jacket, it is so exciting to see what Grace and her team have done with it. From my own OT perspective, my dream was to make our design more available to wheelchair users, but it is definitely an interesting concept to see it brought to a wider market. I think it will be enlightening to see if products designed for people with disabilities indeed have a wider appeal! Great writing, as usual, Liz, I always enjoy reading your blog!

  4. Virgnia Bemis March 12, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Would I buy a product that wasn’t created for my needs if it turned out to meet my needs? Abso-bloody-lutely!

  5. Charlotte Issyvoo March 12, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    As someone who writes a blog about, among other things, style and disability, this topic is obviously interesting to me. I don’t use a wheelchair but I do use a mobility scooter and I am appalled by the ugliness of most clothing designed for us. It’s as if we’re “supposed” to stop caring about our appearance the minute we become disabled, and, if we’re born that way, we’re just supposed to accept that we can’t look good. Hogwash! I have to say that I doubt I would wear that hoody as it’s really not my style. My solution to the frigid cold and rain on my scooter was a 1960s, woollen cape and knee-high, leather boots, elbow length gloves, and a stylish hat. I do so wish that people would make genuinely attractive, not merely functional, clothing to meet the needs of the disabled. They do it with canes. Why not with other things like capes?

    Here’s my disability style, the cape: http://www.sublimemercies.com/2014/12/the-cape-colours-and-mobility-scooter.html

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