Disabled people like being fashionable too, and that includes people with Down syndrome. However, it can be tough for them to find trendy clothes that fit well, because the nature of their chromosomal disorder can cause distinctive physical anomalies that are incompatible with off-the-rack clothes.
That started to be a source of frustration to Ashley DeRamus, a vibrant 30-year-old woman with Down syndrome who adores fashion, so she decided to do something about it: she started designing her own clothes, and she just launched her own line specifically developed for people with Down syndrome, Ashley By Design.
Women with Down syndrome tend to have short torsos and legs, and may be medium to heavily-built depending on their activity levels and any medications they may need to take. That combination can be difficult in the aisles of a department store, where it sometimes seems like everything cute and fashionable is designed for willowy women. Buying clothes can turn into a nightmare because after paying for them, it’s still necessary to pay for costly alterations to get them to fit right.
Ashley’s clothes shift that dynamic, creating fashions that aren’t just intended to fit well on the body of a woman with Down syndrome, but also look good. Her cuts are flattering, fashion-forwar, and fun, from a ruched little black dress to a color-block number. They include leggings, which can be a difficult find for the short-legged among us (I sympathize!) along with accessories like jewelry; woman can get dressed from tip to toe in Ashley By Design and every inch will look fabulous.
At 30 years old, Ashley is a sharp, forward-thinking entrepreneur, tapping into a market that many fashion designers won’t touch. There’s a common assumption that disabled people don’t care about fashion or don’t need to look good, especially when they have cognitive and intellectual disabilities like Ashley does. Consequently, many people with Down syndrome are forced into ill-fitting clothes that feel uncomfortable and don’t allow them to put their best feet forward.
By identifying a need, she captured an important market and she might just encourage other designers to think about disability fashion too, perhaps covering needs like clothes for wheelchair users (who often struggle with garments cut for people who spend most of their time standing) and people with other physical disabilities.
But more than that, she’s sending a clear message to members of the public, and it’s an important one. As an active woman with Down syndrome, she’s highlighting the fact that people with intellectual disabilities can and do lead rich, full lives when they’re empowered and supported; she sails, ziplines and a whole lot more, and she’s an outspoken advocate for herself and others. As an entrepreneur, she’s flying in the face of what people believe about Down syndrome — she’s not waiting passively for anything, but starting her own business and contributing to society in a very real and meaningful way.
Ashley’s clothes illustrate the value of respecting people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities, and they highlight another important thing too: this is what happens when society engages in radical integration, instead of just “tolerance” of people with disabilities. Ashley’s confidence in herself and in her clothing line comes in part from the work of decades of disability rights activists fighting for equal treatment and respect from society, and she benefits immensely from their legacy.
Photo credit: AJU_Photography.