Victoria Jenkins launched a fashion brand for disabled people after a near-death experience led her to an extended hospital stay in 2012. She is the founder of Unhidden, a bespoke clothing brand to cater to different disabilities.
After an undiagnosed ulcer burst in her stomach, Victoria went into surgery, with a ‘50/50’ chance of survival. Miraculously she survived, and it was in hospital that she noticed a massive gap in the market – there was nothing for her and other survivors to wear.
She said: “I have worked with many household name brands – from the high street to high end – over my career. When I became Disabled, it should have been then that I realised that none of my old clothes adjusted to my new needs.
“But it was during a ten day hospital stay in 2016 that I met a fellow patient who changed the course of my life and switched on the light bulb. She had survived cancer, but she was left with multiple other conditions. Every time the doctors came round she had to remove all her clothing, usually in front of a team of doctors. Pyjama tops and loungewear were her only options – but she told me she wanted to dress in nicer clothes – but nothing would adapt. I remember watching her from the other side of the ward and thinking ‘there must be companies out there to help’ but Google returned few results.
“It was then, in that hospital, in front of that amazing lady that the idea of Unhidden was born.”
Victoria’s fashion line covers, in her words, “as many conditions as she could come up with in one garment”. Some are specific to particular disabilities – for example men’s and women’s seated trousers, which are made for wheelchair users.
“They’re longer at the back and shorter at the front, excess is taken away behind the knee and at the front of the hip, and then there’s no pockets on the back so there’s no pressure or sores from pockets and things they don’t use.”
Other garments are elasticated and have a wrap so people can feed catheters or feeding tubes through it, or they are stretchy so people with stoma bags, endometriosis or those who have had surgery can use them.
All of her shirts also have openings in their arms, and use poppers or velcro. “If you’re having treatment for cancer,” she explains, “or if you’re diabetic, you haven’t got to take your clothes off to access your arm.”
Making clothes like this can be very expensive, but she hopes with more representation and demand, the garments can become more affordable. Everything is customisable – amputees can ask for a leg or an arm to be taken off a piece of clothing, and parts can be shortened.
Victoria says, “We have woven social justice into the core of our business and raise awareness around disability and the barriers still faced as well as showing disability in a positive, real light. 1 in 5 people in the UK and 1 in 4 in the US have disabilities – and yet we are only represented 2-3% in global media coverage. This is not enough and causes mental anguish for those who suddenly join the community and have no knowledge of the differences and the battles they may face in a largely inaccessible world. Fashion is about style and self-expression – it is also a necessity. We have to wear clothes, and people take it for granted that they can put on underwear, put on clothes, and go about their day. The disabled community doesn’t even have mainstream access to underwear, never mind actual clothing that doesn’t actually hurt them, cause discomfort, or interfere with their bodies or restrict access to their bodies. Unhidden to me is about bringing our community together, but also about design that isn’t noticeably adaptive; ‘hidden’ alterations that allow the wearer to live a more normal, dignified life both at work and at home. The designs have been thoughtfully created for people living with a wide range of impairments and needs, such as those who have a stoma, catheter users, wheelchair users, and those undergoing chemotherapy, as well as those who have dexterity issues or other invisible illnesses. The fastenings, openings, magnets, velcro, more cloth/less cloth, concealed zips, and fabrics have all been carefully selected to create a range that is functional, comfortable, stylish, and timeless. We also believe in people and the planet before profit- this is why we work with Ambio-N to source our dead stock cloth, and a fantastic factory in Bulgaria run by women that supports its highly skilled workers. We are also size and body inclusive, customizable, and have plans for more access to adaptive clothing through workshops and re-training. We hope to do that by launching a service early next year to adapt our communities’ existing clothing so they don’t have to buy a new wardrobe and can keep well-loved clothing that will now fit them. These alterations will be filmed and available for free so that we leave no one behind when it comes to accessing clothing, dignity, self-expression, and style in a world that has so long not acknowledged us.”
Future plans include a not-for-profit arm training people with disabilities and chronic health conditions how to sew adaptive alterations so they can then work as and when they choose making adaptive alterations for any one who doesn’t sew.
For more details or to buy clothing visit Unhidden Clothing.