Kaycee Marshall On Why Inclusive Design Is The Future Of Fashion

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano
9:00 am
05/07/21

Photos Courtesy of Juniper Unlimited

Tens of millions of adults and children in the U.S. live with a disability. Yet, when it comes to accessible fashion, maybe labels are still lagging behind. Which is where Juniper Unlimited comes in. The e-comm site and content hub is all about inclusivity, with dozens of brands tailor-made for easier access and function-meets-fashion design. Below, Kaycee Marshall, a designer at Yarrow (one of the labels available at Juniper Unlimited), explains why inclusive design is personal for her as a wheelchair user, and why it’s also a big part of the future of fashion.

Tell us about your work at Yarrow as a designer.
“In 2016, I lost my Grandma Emily to Parkinson’s, and she was an amazing influence on my life. I will forever be thankful for all the days she was there to get me off the school bus, the many summers I got to spend with her, and how she would sit me up on the countertop so I could help her cook. She was such a constant throughout my childhood, at every school program, play, and dance recital. I miss her everyday, but I am proud to be able to honor her in my work with Yarrow. It was hard to watch my stylish grandma lose the ability to wear the clothing she wanted. Yarrow is designed with her needs in mind which makes getting dressed simpler. I hope that Yarrow can make another woman’s journey with Parkinson’s easier by restoring dignity and empowering her to go about her day in ease.”

Tell us about Juniper.
Juniper Unlimited is a content hub, e-commerce marketplace, and community for people with disabilities and caregivers. Brands, products, and services are human centered, innovative, and high quality. Style is curated for satisfaction and performance, functionality and fashion. Caregiving is championed and brought to the forefront. At Juniper Unlimited, you’ll find products like the Kaycee Seated Fit Jegging made with wheelchair users’ needs in mind to articles about the accessibility of New York City to even makeup tutorials. It is an inclusive content hub that uplifts everyone’s voices.”

How many brands are part of Juniper besides Yarrow?
“There are many amazing brands found on Juniper Unlimited. I work on our three internal brands—Yarrow, Magna Ready, and one that is soon to be launched.” 

What inspired you to become a fashion designer?
“My passion for fashion was there from the start. I would sketch my designs in a notebook with crayons. I took sewing classes at my local Jo Ann Fabrics and spent summers in Los Angeles and Chicago attending fashion summer programs. Fashion has always been the way I choose to express myself.” 

What do you hope to see in terms of the fashion industry and the disability community?
“The fashion industry is notorious for its lack of diversity. I would flip through fashion magazines and wonder why people with disabilities were excluded. We are just as glamorous and deserve a more prominent place in the industry. I want to increase understanding through diversity and representation in the fashion industry. Clothing should be empowering, giving independence, and building confidence for women of all abilities, sizes, and shapes. It starts with including disabled models in EVERY campaign. We are the largest minority group, yet we are often left out of the conversation when it comes to diversity and inclusion.”

What does inclusivity and accessibility mean to you?
“True inclusion isn’t tokenism. I would encourage people working within the fashion industry to relook at their mission to diversity and inclusion. I think true inclusion goes beyond having a diverse group of models in our campaigns but also valuing and uplifting those voices that you are giving a platform to. To truly include people with disabilities in the fashion industry, we have to be willing to listen and make changes.” 

“Accessibility within the fashion industry could be as simple as rethinking store floor plans to make sure someone in a wheelchair could fit through an aisle to website accessibility—meaning someone who is blind or low vision could access a brand’s website with a screen reader. All of these things start with hiring people with disabilities within your company. It is easy to miss accessibility for the disabled when no one on your team is considering it.”

Tell us about your work writing for the Juniper community.
“Being a content contributor for Juniper Unlimited allows me to explore interests I have outside of fashion within the disability community. I have interviewed disability advocates to discuss preferred terminology, wrote about my experiences with accessibility in NYC, and even dipped into the beauty world by doing makeup tutorials. It is another fun and creative outlet for me.”

What has been the most satisfying response you’ve received about Yarrow?
“I love giving people independence. We are creating garments that solve someone’s day-to-day struggles with clothing. I love the confidence it gives these women when they can finally get ready with ease.”

What were you doing before designing for Yarrow?
“I graduated from The Fashion School at Kent State University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design. After appearing on the Today Show as an ‘Outstanding Graduate,’ I started a mentorship with ASOS and consulted for other major brands before starting in my role as Assistant Designer at Juniper Unlimited.”

What is the opportunity for adaptive fashion?
“Adaptive fashion is a huge untapped market. The New York Times even called it fashion’s ‘new frontier,’ as more and more designers and brands featuring disabled models and adaptive clothing pop up. I believe the adaptive market will continue to grow and brands do not want to be left behind. It is a smart business move and you are also changing lives by offering authentic representation and allowing people to get dressed with ease.”

How have you adapted the design process?
“Industrial sewing machines are built with the foot pedal mounted to the floor. I don’t have enough strength in my feet or legs to press down the pedal or to even reach a foot pedal on the ground because of my height. I use a home sewing machine because it has a moveable pedal. I place it in between my knees to control the speed of the machine and so then I have both hands to control the fabric. The heights of the dress forms and patternmaking tables in the studio can be a problem, but my power wheelchair has an adjustable height.”

Since there is such a wide variety in the disability community, how do you navigate this when designing and keeping lots of different types of bodies in mind?
“I have first-hand experience, but the disabled community is so diverse. At Juniper Unlimited we include people with disabilities in every step of the process from designers, fit models, wear testers, and models. I need the feedback of my community in order to design an inclusive collection.”

How can we all be allies to the disability community?
“There are so many ways to be a good ally to the disability community and it all starts by listening! Share our content with your friends and don’t talk over us when we speak out about our experiences. Prioritize disabled voices over non-disabled when talking about issues related to disability and accessibility. Educate yourself on disability and advocate for our rights. Speak up when things don’t seem fair or aren’t accessible for all. When someone is being ableist, call them out. It’s 2021 and there’s no room for ableist language or slurs. Disability advocates speak out all the time on social media. Follow their accounts, especially including disabled POC and LGBTQ+ on your feed, because intersectionality in your activism is so important.”

What’s a typical day look like for you?
“I don’t have a typical day but I always start my morning with coffee. When I am not working, I love trying new makeup trends and exploring NYC with my friends.

Mother’s Day is coming up. Why is it important to you?
“Mother’s Day is special to me because I was raised by an amazing one. My mother is beautiful, strong, and determined. She was my biggest advocate growing up and taught me I can do anything I set my mind to. From Girl Scout camp to sewing lessons to even cheerleading, we always found a way to adapt the activities I wanted to try out even if it didn’t seem accessible at first. She encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming a fashion designer. I have to credit some of my fashion sense to her and she definitely fueled my love for shopping. From the beginning, she always picked out the cutest outfits for me and don’t forget the matching hair bows!” 

You can check out Kaycee’s designs—and many other inclusive styles—over at Juniper Unlimited. Meanwhile, you can learn more about Juniper @juniperunlimited on Instagram and @JuniperUnltd on Pinterest, and Kaycee @kayceecouture on Instagram and @kaycee_couture on Twitter. 

 

 

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