Today I want to introduce you to Katie Ellis the Founder of a fantastic British adaptive clothing company called The Able Label based in Kent, United Kingdom, and explore her passions for adaptive fashion and design, her inspirations and plans for the future.
Katie witnessed first-hand the daily difficulties that individuals with mobility issues suffer. Her beloved grandmother had been diagnosed with Parkinson Disease, a lifelong progressive condition involving neurological changes in the body.
The disease progresses in five stages. The symptoms begin with mild tremors on one side of the body, and over time mobility deteriorates with loss of balance, limited motor skills and eventually losing the ability to stand or walk. According to the European Parkinson's Disease Association, approximately 10 million people around the world live with this condition today with approximately 145,000 of those living in the UK and 1 million people in the USA.
Katie would listen to her grandmother expressing her sadness at how adaptive clothing was unfashionable and how she was saddened by relying on Katie's grandfather to assist her in dressing every morning. Understandably, it is difficult for many people who develop mobility issues to become accustomed to needing assistance in getting dressed daily.
It was seeing these difficulties, that drove Katie to take action. The Able Label was born in 2015 when Katie began to focus on garment technology and in 2017 after much research and testing, the first garment was put on sale. The brand has continued to grow into the popular and respected brand it is today.
Welcome Katie and thank you so much for sharing your story today. Let's begin!
To start, we would love to know a little more about you. Tell us a little about yourself...
I have always loved fashion and studied ‘Design Management for Fashion Retailing’ at Manchester University. After graduating, I went on to work as a fashion buyer. During my time as a buyer, I was fortunate enough to work across womenswear and menswear and teamed up closely with designers and factories to bring in clothes that our customers would love.
I would often visit the factories alongside our designers to do this, sourcing the best fabrics, ensuring the clothes fitted perfectly and that everything was to the highest quality. Attention to detail was vital. This all gave me great insight into the industry and enabled me to found The Able Label, utilising my contacts within the industry.
You definitely had extensive knowledge of the industry, a huge benefit to you in setting up the brand! What specifically compelled you to become an adaptive clothing designer?
I saw first hand the difficulties my grandmother faced when dressing, having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. We searched together for some solutions, but were both shocked by the lack of options available.
She loved the experience of shopping for clothes, that feeling of excitement when you try something new that fits perfectly and most importantly, being able to dress herself. The Parkinson’s slowly began to take this away from her and she hated the fact my grandfather increasingly had to help her with dressing.
She told me she felt as though she’d lost her dignity and independence so certainly wasn’t going to sacrifice her style too. That's when I decided to do something about it - designing, developing and testing a range of great-looking, adaptive clothes that so many people like my grandmother would love to wear them, yet also find it easy to live with.
It must have been incredibly frustrating to watch how your grandmother struggled to keep her sense of individuality and style. She must be so incredibly proud of the work you have done and continue to do with The Able Label.
How would you describe your brand in three words?
Positive, Detailed and Caring.
That is definitely an accurate description. We would love to learn more about your collections and ranges - tell us more!
We are a lifestyle brand who, like my grandmother and our inspirational customers, maintain a positive attitude. We believe that the right clothes can change your mood - if you’re comfortable and confident in what you wear, this will come across.
This feeling is something that we endeavor to create with every item we bring in so independence, attention to detail and quality is always at the heart of everything we do. We appreciate that it’s often the little things in life that make the biggest difference. Our versatile clothes become wardrobe favourites that can be worn for years to come.
We are a caring, honest and open company and treat others’ as we would like to be treated ourselves. Everyone in our little team has been or are carers and we’re all in regular contact with our customers. This helps us to better understand their wants and needs.
It is clear that you care very much about your customers. I know that you are always listening to their feedback and you are always keeping them at the core of your brand designs. Not forgetting that your charity work is truly commendable! What do you love most about being a designer?
Making a positive difference - hearing back from our customers on what a huge impact our clothes have made to their lives. We had one customer who was having to actually cut herself out of vests as it was just too difficult for her to dress into her current versions - she is now able to dress independently and no longer needs the scissors to hand!
Another customer was choosing not to go out as she feared that she wouldn’t be able to get her coat back on without asking for help - since discovering The Able Label, she has started going back out again.
Our clothes have helped to change lives - giving back independence and growing confidence, so seeing this is what I love most.
Where do you like to get inspiration for your work? Are you inspired by music, art etc?
Everywhere! From industry trade-shows, art exhibitions, the shops, street style and a (pre-COVID) trip to Japan but most of all our customers. We regularly have focus groups and listen to what is being asked for - this is our greatest inspiration.
How would you define your own personal style?
Probably a balance of effortless, relaxed style dressed for comfort but with a nice touch or two. I don’t follow trends as such and love versatile items that can be dressed up or down in different ways. The most important item in my wardrobe are my white trainers though.
As a working mum on the go, trainers are definitely vital - I am sure Eva keeps you on your toes! What is the one piece of adaptive fashion that you have created that you are most proud of?
Tough choice but I’d have to say our Tabatha Tee, mostly because I love a good tee. They are so versatile and can be worn dressed down with jeans or up with a statement necklace and tucked into a midi skirt. There are so many possibilities and they’re super comfy and practical too.
Made from pure cotton, they are soft and breathable, but also have added features like touch-close velcro at the front to avoid overhead dressing. Raglan sleeves give a greater surface area making it easier to get arms into armholes. Colour coordinated internals also help with this too making the armholes easier to see, plus with lime for left and red for right, they help anyone with cognitive difficulties to dress the right way round.
It’s basically an all round hero piece - versatile enough to wear with almost anything and helpful enough to make dressing easier for a wide variety of needs, so my favourite.
Finally, all designers and entrepreneurs are endlessly busy! On a scale from 1-10 (with 10 being the messiest) how tidy is your desk at this exact moment? (my own desk is always a sold 9 haha)
I would love to meet any designer who has a tidy desk! I am a fairly tidy person but we have so many fabric swatches, approvals, samples, etc. through that as quickly as I clear my desk, it gets cluttered again! I’d therefore say an 8 and this is only not a 10 because my intentions are good! 😊
Thank you so much Katie, it has been an absolute pleasure to get to know you and your team, and of course your fantastic adaptive designs! We wish you every success for the future and we are excited to watch the brand continue to grow.
You can learn more about The Able Label on any of the links below, make sure to show them your love and support!
For more support and information on Parkinson's Disease, please click on your country link below:
Argentina: Acepar Parkinson Argentina
Australia: Parkinson's Australia
Austria: Parkinson Selbsthilfe Österreich
Brazil: Associação Brasil Parkinson
Bulgaria: Bulgarian Neurological Society
Cameroon: Parkinson Cameroun
Canada: Parkinson Canada
Columbia: Alianza Parkinson Cali
Croatia: Udruga Parkinson i mi
Czech Republic: Společnost PARKINSON, z. s
Estonia: Eesti Parkinsoniliit
Faroe Islands: Parkinsonfelagið
France: Association France Parkinson or
Finland: Parkinsonliitto ry
Germany: ParkinsonFonds Deutschland
Hungary: Delta Magyar Parkinson Egyesület
Indonesia: Parkinson Indonesia Community
Israel: Israel Parkinson Association
Lithuania: Lietuvos Parkinsono ligos draugija
Luxembourg: Parkinson Luxembourg (PL) a.s.b.l
Malaysia: Parkinson's Disease Association
Netherlands: Parkinson Vereniging (PV)
New Zealand: Parkinson's New Zealand
Norway: Norges Parkinsonforbund
Pakistan: Pakistan Parkinson's Society (PPS)
Rep of Ireland: Parkinson's Association of Ireland
Slovenia: Društvo TREPETLIKA
Turkey: Parkinson Hastaları Derneği
Uganda: Parkinson's si buko Uganda
Ukraine: Ukrainian Parkinson Disease Society
United Kingdom: Parkinson's UK
United States of America: The American Parkinson Disease Association National Office