Takafumi Tsuruta: Not Bound by the Convention of Disability

Posted on March 25, 2015

I have written fairly critically about the new trend of fashion designers hiring runway models with disabilities. The media has been quick to embrace the ‘inspiring’ inclusion of more culturally diverse models, but I am someone who has found the entire trend cringeworthy. As my passion is finding ways to ease the stigma of assistive devices, I feel the need to point out that none of the designers who are hiring models with disabilities actually make or market a product for someone with a disability.

So you can color me unimpressed when I read this headline:

Wheelchair on the runway at Tokyo Fashion Week

Against my better judgement, I clicked on the headline. And I’m so glad I did. Because I discovered a designer who is designing for specific needs. And then he is employing appropriate models to demonstrate the purposefulness of his designs. I want to shout his name from the rooftops!


Takafumi Tsuruta Tenbo Tokyo Fashion Week

The first item to jump out at me was the green White Cane. No, the cane wasn’t a shade of green-white, it was a traditional White Cane, used by visually impaired people, but made green. Tsuruta made me realize the performative function of a white cane is not its color but the way it’s used. And if the color is not functionally relevant to the user, perhaps it can become an opportunity for a visually impaired person to express their own individual style. Style is a form of self expression that sighted people don’t often perceive as relevant to our blind population. But style is not lost when vision is lost and we are not inherently stylish beings simply because we see. These are the complexities of someone who actually aims to design for all people. What is fashion without touch?

Takafumi Tsuruta Tenbo Tokyo Fashion Week

If there was an inclusive design spectrum, Tsuruta’s fashions would rank high in disability theory. His isn’t designing just for disabled people. And he isn’t designing just for able bodied people. He also isn’t attempting the impossible goal of universal design, which aims to make products for all people (there’s always going to be an exception). Tsuruta is simply designing different fashions for different people. He calls it “People’s Design”, which seems to mean designing purposefully for the characteristics that make each of us exceptional. Here are a few examples (and if you’re interested, a few ‘like’ products already on the market):

Tenbo Magnetic buttons Coat: Magnets are employed in the place of traditional buttons to allow for people with dexterity limitations to dress themselves. But who doesn’t find traditional buttons frustrating and time consuming? Would this not ease each of our morning burdens?

Tenbo Takafumi Tsuruta Tokyo Fashion Week

If you are someone who has limited dexterity or just likes an easier way to dress, you should check out MagnaReady’s magnetic closure oxford shirts.

MagnaReady Oxford

Mobile phone inside of Knee of pocket: A knee pocket was designed for a wheelchair user who has difficulty accessing front pockets and has no use for back pockets. But aren’t we a sitting society who frequently has to adjust our sitting position to access the phone in our pocket? Who wouldn’t benefit from an easily accessible pocket, one that our most relied upon items won’t fall out of.

Takafumi Tsuruta Tenbo Tokyo Fashion Week

If you are someone who relies on a wheelchair to navigate the world, or if you are someone who could benefit from such a pocket, check out ABL Denim.

ABL Denim Wheelchair Jeans

The Braille Dress: Tenbo takes the traditional polka dot dress and changes the way we interact with it by using a tactile Braille pattern. This dress tells a most opportune and intimate story, draped over our bodies. The Braille is tactile, inviting human touch, something that happens so naturally in disability. A sturdy hand to hold, a doctor’s touch, a loving hug. But the Braille is also highly visual which also allows someone on the other side of the planet to see such unintentionally subversive design.

Takafumi Tsuruta Tenbo Tokyo Fashion Week Braille Dress

Tenbo as a brand does not ’try’ to be unorthodox. Tenbo is a purposeful brand. Tsuruta’s inspiration came from caring for his elderly grandmother. He designs lose fitting, functional garments that are easy to put on and remove. His interest is not in the functional impairment of the person, but what makes a person happy. He even makes clothing that can be reversed depending on how you are feeling in any given moment.

Takafumi Tsuruta Tenbo Tokyo Fashion Week

So I want to take this moment to thank Tsuruta. He is now my reminder that in a world that can leave me feeling frustrated or jaded, there will be people who show up and floor the greatest skeptic of all. Because of designers like Tsuruta, world is becoming more inclusive and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

(Sign Up to be notified of new posts)

What Others Are Saying

  1. Jacki L Lyden March 31, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for this! Can’t wait to get some Tenbo for my mother!

  2. Pingback: NYCSeatShare Is Not Alone: Tokyo's Help Mark Badge - The Girl with the Purple CaneThe Girl with the Purple Cane

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *