Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Beyond the Seams: Izzy Camilleri’s IZ Adaptive Empowers People Living with Disabilities

Sourced photo
Sourced photo

Image commercially licensed from Unsplash

Fashion is about so much more than just the clothes on your body. It’s about self-identity, confidence, creativity and innovation. Fashion empowers people to be the most authentic versions of themselves and has been proven to improve mood. Fashion even has the power to emancipate and make you feel like you can conquer the world. But for many, options in fashion have eluded them. That is until Canadian Izzy Camilleri and IZ Adaptive changed that paradigm. 

“My whole outlook on life completely changed when I turned my focus from runway fashion to dressing those who live with a disability.” Prolific fashion designer Izzy Camilleri, who has graced the pages of Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue Business and designed for celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lopez, has rededicated her creative genius to designing chic and functional clothing for the 65 million people living with disabilities. Because of IZ Adaptive, Camilleri’s innovative and stylish clothing brand, individuals who live with a physical disability are able to express themselves, be confident and feel free.

The Start

Camilleri started her fashion career fresh out of school at 19. “I just started freelancing, and people loved what I was doing. I was doing custom work, and that list of jobs started getting bigger and bigger. So, I decided to start my own business. I came to the table with zero industry experience, but I fumbled my way through.”

It wasn’t smooth sailing. In 1987, there was a global stock market crash, which seriously impacted the economy. It hit many of Camilleri’s retailers that she was selling to, so she had to pivot. “The Canadian dollar dropped significantly. And the good thing about that was that the American film industry started coming to Canada to do their filming because they were saving literally 50% of their money.”

Toronto became a hub for the film industry and a fortuitous stepping stone for Camilleri. “Somebody that I knew was working in a wardrobe department in the film industry. They had bought a leather jacket for a scene and realized that they needed a stunt double piece. They didn’t have duplicates at the store, so they came to me. They knew I worked in leather. When they came to pick it up, they couldn’t tell which jacket I made and which was purchased.

Slowly, Camilleri’s name got around to the wardrobe departments in the film industry, and she became very busy very quickly. Because many of the retailers who owned her money went bankrupt, she was struggling financially; she took on jobs in the film industry and, sadly, had to put her business on the back burner. “I eventually stopped selling my fashion line because it was very difficult to know who had credit anymore. I did film work for about 10 to 15 years. I met a gazillion celebrities and worked on a gazillion movies, commercials, music videos, and movies of the week, which were really popular in the 90s.”

The Return

Although she was experiencing vast success, it didn’t fill the creative hole that creating fashion did. “Around 2004, I really missed fashion, and I decided to come back into fashion.” She managed to do both work for film and work on her collection.

And then, something beautiful happened to Izzy Camilleri. “I met a woman who was a wheelchair user, and she had quadriplegia. She was a professional, a journalist, and she needed some custom clothing. The fashion editor at her newspaper recommended me to her. Because of the type of work I was doing, she thought that I could help her.”

That moment became the inspiration for IZ Adaptive. “It was very eye-opening. I had no idea that she had different clothing needs than myself. And after working with her for a while, I just realized, ‘oh my god,’ like if she’s got all these problems with clothes, there’s got to be many other people with the same issues. And, that was how the seeds were planted.

In 2009, she created IZ Adaptive. To promote the brand, she had to do it the old, costly way with print advertising, with no Facebook or Instagram in sight. It was a big challenge for her to get the brand out and in front of the people who wanted and needed her product. “Just because you live with a disability, it doesn’t mean that you’re all looking at the same magazines or you all have the same interests.” She explains that they garden, cook, read, etcetera, so finding the niche to advertise was virtually impossible. “The market is actually so fragmented with all the different types of disabilities.”

Camilleri wasn’t about to give up. “I literally started this category in the fashion world back in 2009 when we first launched, way, way, way before the curve and before social media is what it is today. There were so many challenges in keeping it alive, but I did, and it has survived, which does show a demand for the product.”

She tried for a while to maintain both her high-end fashion line and the adaptive line, but then, another recession hit. She made the painstaking decision to give all her focus, money and energy to IZ Adaptive. “I decided to serve this market that had been largely underserved,” she adds, “it was about respecting my fellow human being by using my time and talent to help make someone else’s life easier.”

IZ Adaptive

Today, IZ Adaptive has a diversity of fashions that are chic, comfortable and tailored for the unique needs of individuals with seated frames. They include features like cut-lines, fabrics with stretch, open-back styles, and easy-access features. Camilleri has also patented a seamless pant that not only improves the function but also improves the safety function of the clothing as well. “My patent is ground-breaking, and I’m pretty proud of that since it has the potential to save someone’s life or reduces the risk of serious health issues.” The IZ Adaptive collection includes jeans, chinos, shirts, blouses, blazers, and dresses, all with helpful adaptations that make life a little easier and much more fashionable for people living with disabilities. 

Millions of people continue to be underserved. They need and deserve to know about IZ Adaptive. There is a great deal more that Camilleri plans to do for them and the brand. She wants her customers to have options, to be able to express themselves with fashion and to have supreme functionality and comfort. She wants and knows there is a market for IZ Adaptive to grow and expand; in fact, the market is predicted to be worth $350 billion within the next few years.  “While there are many people within this demographic who can afford our current prices, there are many others who have limited or fixed incomes. We want to reach a wider audience and are working towards restructuring our manufacturing to reduce our pricing.” 

Fashion is empowering. It can make or break one’s day, and everyone deserves options that make them feel good and provide them functionality in their daily endeavors. One of Izzy’s fans and IZ Adaptive wearer agrees, “I just wanted to let you know that I tried on the men’s Chino pants that I purchased from you and actually teared up after sitting in them for a few minutes. I have been in a chair for close to 30 years. In that time I have never put on a garment that is as comfortable, stylish, quality made, and easy to put on! I always enjoyed dressing up pre-injury, and I’ve never had the opportunity to do so until today. I am excited to expand my wardrobe, and to not only be comfortable, but feel confident in how I look again.”

While most of us have a lot of fashion options, many still don’t. That is what IZ Adaptive and Izzy Camilleri are working hard to change, and with expansion, many more will have options, too.


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