Students: Unparalleled


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Christina Mallon wearing the final Unparalleled coat. / Photographs by Kilian Son (2017).

Parsons School of Design (USA) / Tutor: Grace Jun (2017)

Unparalleled is a collaborative project done for Open Style Lab, a New York based non-profit organization dedicated to making style and clothing accessible to people of all abilities.

We, Julia Liao, Claudia Poh and Estee Bruno are designers from Parsons School of Design concentrating on product design, fashion design, and creative technology. We have worked as a team to create a one-of-a-kind wearable solution for their client Christina Mallon. Christina has a rare case of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease or Motor Neuron Disease) called flail arm syndrome, causing both of her arms to have paralysis. Over the course of the seven years since being diagnosed, Christina’s arms have slowly become completely paralyzed. One of her primary struggles as a person with a disability consists in the impossibility of putting on a coat or a jacket by herself, in order to go out during the winter.

Prior to this project, Christina relied on an assistive device made of PVC pipes that was custom designed for her by physical therapists in order to put on a jacket. The device was around four feet tall and took up a corner of a room in her home. Although the assistive device was helpful in certain situations, she was not able to take off her jacket easily, or to put the jacket back on when she wasn’t at home. Christina would often have to rely on other people to help her put on or take off a jacket, or be underdressed for the weather.

Unparalleled is a coat that she can don on and off (meaning put on and take off) independently without assistance. Working alongside occupational therapists, design mentors, and professors, we were able to create a two-part coat inspired by some of the existing garments that Christina is able to put on independently. The coat is made of wool for warmth, and polyester lining for easy donning and doffing.

The coat is also designed to have no fabric closures, a stiffer neck hole and wide sleeve for faster and successful donning and doffing. Aside from the functionality, the team has also taken Christina’s personal clothing style into consideration. Unparalleled allows her to keep warm during cold New York winters, so that she is able to do her daily tasks independently. We hope that Christina’s story and the work done at Open Style Lab will push fashion, style and design to become accessible to everyone in the future.

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“We had Christina don on and off our prototypes and timed her to see how we could make it faster for her to put on.”