Lauren Thierry yearned for years that there should be functional clothing that is also fashionable for those who have special needs. A busy mother of three and career journalist, Thierry tenaciously decided to do something about it. She left the CNN Financial News anchor desk to create her own line, Independence Day Clothing, to give independence to those who need it most.
It all began one morning when Thierry took a rugby shirt and tweaked it just a bit so that her son, Liam, who has autism, could wear it more easily. That initiated a thought revolution: Perhaps there is a way to help those with cognitive impairments or physical disabilities get dressed independently. And just as important, a clothing line that gives independence back to parents, other family members and caregivers as well.
Fast-forward to today and Thierry’s Independence Day Clothing is now a 14-piece collection (and growing!) of fashionable and functional adaptive clothing for kids, teens and adults with special needs. Its style is “preppy-to-trendy” to maintain a similar look to mainstream clothing lines but perfected for its intended consumer.
With Independence Day Clothing now exclusively available on Zappos, I had the opportunity to ask Thierry about her clothing line, the direction she sees it going and how she hopes it’ll positively impact other families like hers.
What triggered you to quit CNN and create an adaptive clothing line?
I was chairing an autism fundraiser with an MLB team, but security wouldn’t let my then 13-year-old son into the ladies’ room with me. Terrified, I sent him into the men’s room on his own for the first time in his life. When finished, Liam came out with his jeans half off.
That was the tipping point: Ten years of occupational therapy, eight years of “dressing lessons” and Liam still could not zip and button his fly on a pair of Levi’s. Everyone was staring. But it did make me vow that Liam would never lose his dignity, let alone his pants, ever again.
What does Independence Day Clothing mean to you?
In its most basic terms, creating clothing with no buttons, zippers, scratchy tags or other impediments which prohibit upwards of 50 million Americans with special needs from dressing themselves properly, comfortably, fashionably and independently.
Due to difficulties with cognitive, fine motor or sensory issues, people with autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, tactile disorders, CP, MS, visual impairments, severe injuries Alzheimer's, etc., are often relegated to baggy sweats and simple T-shirts. These individuals deserve to look and feel like their typical siblings and peers.
How does your clothing line go the extra mile?
Independence Day’s “hidden helpers” make these clothes uniquely accessible, socially appealing and provides optional safety features. We removed obstacles to dressing independently, and we also nixed the scratchy tags and bulky seams. Plus, our equally meted necklines have a wider opening, and our waistbands are more forgiving, so everything glides on with ease.
I’m not re-inventing the preppy apparel wheel; I’ve just made some ingenious (patent pending) tweaks to these classic clothing lines so that this population gets to dress like any other kid without a parent’s help.
Besides your current reversible and front-to-back clothing, what other adaptations do you hope to develop?
Socks are going to be huge. I know what you’re thinking: How hard can it be to put on a sock? Well, if the heel is riding over the top of your instep, or you don't pull it up all the way, or if there’s a toe seam and you have sensory issues, it will ruin your whole day.
Also, khakis, tie-dye T-shirts, flowing shirtdresses, soft bell-bottoms, school and camp shirts, skater shorts that double as boys’ bathing suits, girls’ bathing suits that double as tank tops, and more variations on our best-selling underwear that fits front-to-back and reversible.
Durability-wise, how do your materials compare to cotton attire?
A lot of research and development went, and still goes, into our fabric selections. When you hold one of our garments in your hand, they may seem heavier than usual. There’s a couple of reason for that. While we want our fabrics breathable, they must hold up under rougher than normal conditions. For example, a person who is fidgety; a person who might tug on his sleeves or neckline; a group home that washes clothes all on hot settings; or families who infrequently purchase clothes for their loved one with special needs.
Furthermore, we have varying degrees of spandex and viscose woven throughout, like the performance-wear now dominating the athletic space. We look for that perfect blend of stretch and bounce back. It’s a slog through the textile shows and mills, but we search out fabrics that are tough, lightweight, breathable and definitely comfortable!
How do you see this partnership with Zappos helping others?
Zappos’ whole philosophy is customer-oriented care and going the extra mile — that’s us, too! So many older, established companies wouldn’t take a chance on us; who wouldn't take a chance on dressing the millions out there with disabilities. But not Zappos. They’ve made dressing those with special needs a priority, a mission and together this is going to be a game-changer.
To learn more about Independence Day Clothing and discover other Zappos Adaptive tops, bottoms and undergarments, you can do so by clicking here.