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CCAD Student Makes Fashion More Inclusive

The Columbus College of Art & Design holds its formal fashion show Friday night. One student designer has turned her experience of living with one hand into crafting clothes that combine function and fashion for others with disabilities. 

Mike Foley reports.

CCAD senior Chelsea Funk had a love of fashion design at an early age. Born with amniotic band syndrome, she’s lived her entire life without part of her left arm. She embraced the challenges that came along with that and wanted to help others.    

“Doing basic things like tying shoes, zippers and buttons were always hard to do by myself,” Funk reflected. “But I’ve overcome those things. My mom was great, and can’t was a word we weren’t allowed to use. I had a mentor who taught me how to sow. We made a quillow, which is a quilt-pillow. I was over the moon at how it transformed. I wanted to apply that to clothing to give people who are different multiple uses with their garments.”

Funk began a new approach her senior year – combing the fun and flair of fashion but designing the clothes in a way to meet a child’s individual need and ability. She explains one of her most personal designs for a young girl also born with amniotic band syndrome.

“She loves to wear oversized flannel shirts, but she can’t button them herself,” Funk said. “So I made her a button-up shirt. It looks like any other button-up shirt, but instead of buttons they are magnets so that she can put it on and take it off herself. The first time she did that with her mom and grandpa, they started crying because she did it by herself and didn’t need help. I felt so proud, not necessarily for the design work that I had done. I was just so happy that I made a difference in somebody else’s life. To see her know that she can do anything, I can’t put into words just how unbelievably happy it made me.”

Another little girl with no thumbs loves dresses but has trouble putting on styles that are too heavy. Funk created a half dress with a skirted front and t-shirt style back so it’s easy for the girl to pull on and off. Funk says there were some early difficulties in college as design machines have advanced and move much faster. Her professors took the time to teach her different ways to sow with one hand, and Funk says absent that help, she would never have come this far. But Funk’s work ethic and passion for inclusivity in fashion has also left an impact on her professors. Suzanne Cotton chairs the fashion design department at CCAD.

“Every year we want students to think about what could be marketable, where are there holes in the market and filling and providing some new opportunities,” Cotton said. “It definitely fits that. But it’s really brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. It’s really hit a nerve. So much of the industry is focused on sales, but they don’t really think about all the people that have a need out there for something and providing a little bit more of a special product and how much it can do.”

Funk also has a broader message with her collection – to embrace and work with what you’re given. For the industry itself, it’s that fashion should be inclusive for everyone. Funk plans to stay in Columbus and start her own adaptive clothing business. Her collection along with the designs from other students will be part of Friday night’s CCAD fashion show at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. 

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