Every morning, 11-year-old Jayden Niblett struggles to get dressed. Jayden has Down syndrome. His unique body type and movement limitations make finding clothes and dressing himself tough. Now researchers are working with Jayden and others like him to find solutions.
People with Down syndrome tend to be gentle, friendly, and happy. Because of a chromosome abnormality, many have shorter limbs and thicker bodies compared to peers. Some are sensitive to tags and textured fabrics. It’s often difficult for them to find everyday clothes, like jeans, that fit well and feel good. Jayden often wore women’s capri pants to get the right length. But as his body grows more muscular, capris aren’t working.
“It’s really frustrating for him,” says Janet Littleton, Jayden’s grandmother. “It absolutely affects his mood and how his whole day is going to go.”
Scientists at the University of Delaware’s Innovation, Health, and Design Lab want to help. Jayden is part of a research study there. Lab scientists hope to make the country’s first size guide for people with Down syndrome.
There’s really no such thing as “normal” or “regular” when it comes to human sizes and shapes. God made every person unique and in His image. Size charts are merely averages. They don’t represent every body.
The lab’s mission is to provide the Down community with access to clothing that gives comfort, independence, and confidence. At the end of the study, Jayden and nearly 1,000 other participating children will each receive a free custom-made pair of jeans.
Martha Hall is a fashion designer turned biomechanical engineer. She runs the lab. “People think of fashion as a sort of fluffy science,” she says. But Hall’s work is far from fluff. She seeks to improve the quality of life for the physically challenged—through clothing.
Hall knows that some brands have tried to make sensory-sensitive clothing. But she says most aren’t using accurate size guides. “Itʼs great that there are designers interested in serving the population. But you have to talk to the community and understand what the actual issue is . . . in order to design something that actually suits them.”
Hall’s lab uses a 3-D scanner. It scans participants’ bodies and creates 3-D avatars with exact measurements of each person’s size and shape. Human Solutions, the company that built the scanner, will use the collected data to create a size guide. Companies will be able to purchase the guide to design clothing based on accurate measurements for the Down population.
“He wants to be self-reliant,” Littleton says of Jayden. “Heʼs excited to look good in what heʼs wearing.” Hall’s team is working to help him do just that.