Gephardt News Student News

Adaptive Apparel: Changing How We Conceptualize Fashion

Photos by Layla Zonouzy

Shelei Pan can attest that some of the best ideas are sparked without much intention.  

In high school, one of her close friends who uses a walker expressed how difficult it was to find attire for the Homecoming Dance. “Finding a dress, suit, or pant, is so crucial to your comfort and how confident you feel,” Pan maintains. This experience sent her down a path of inquiry and web-research. Inspired by Runway of Dreams, an adaptive non-profit organization, Pan decided to emulate her own initiative at WashU. Thus became Made to Model. 

Made to Model is an initiative, spearheaded by Pan, that creates clothing for children with disabilities. Pan has brought along a team of student designers who specifically craft each garment to be more comfortable and simple to put on. The pieces will be showcased in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts’ Annual Fashion Design Show on April 30. Each of the 17 models from around the St. Louis area, with ranging physical abilities, will be walking down the very same runway as all of the other models.  

The Gephardt Institute has assisted Made to Model through this process with a Community Partnership Mini Grant. This grant provides funding for projects targeting community organizations and regional priorities in the St. Louis area. In speaking of the application process Pan noted that it was very straight-forward. “Everything that we needed was clear on the website and [the Gephardt Institute staff] were always there if I had any questions.” 

Pan is extremely thankful to the Gephardt Institute for their support and insight. “From a financial perspective, it was super helpful having the generous money that the Gephardt Institute gave us.” Through the grant funding, Made to Model was able to buy muslin, a linen used to create a version of each piece for fittings, as well as the proper textiles for the final products.

From an idea perspective, the Gephardt Institute helped boost the project to where it is today. Through project meetings with Student Engagement Coordinator, Colleen Smith, and Civic Engagement Fund Assistant, Layla Zonouzy, Pan realized that to advance their mission, Made to Model could have the models walk in the Sam Fox Annual Fashion Design Show. This would provide a unique experience for each of the child models as well as demonstrate their significance to the fashion world. To anyone who may be interested in applying for a grant, Pan says, “Reach out and apply. Everyone here is super helpful and they want to see you succeed.” 

“My favorite part has been working with the kids. The models.” That’s what Made to Model comes back to. The children cannot wait to walk down the runway and show the world how truly adaptive fashion can be.  

Article by Lily Gordon