Making Access Possible
In Conversation with Christina
Meet the designer bringing clothes shopping to everyone
For people with disabilities, getting dressed can be challenging. We created the Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive collection to better meet the varied needs of people with different body shapes and abilities – from velcro openings and magnetic fastenings to adapted waistlines and adjustable hems.
But creating the line is one thing – making it easy to buy is another.
When Christina Mallon developed a condition that left both her arms paralyzed, she understood first-hand the challenge – of not only getting dressed, but also of buying clothes. Like so many people with disabilities, she finds using a mouse and keyboard to navigate websites can be difficult and time-consuming.
Working in advertising and marketing, she quickly noticed that the companies she worked with had a blind spot. “I was looking at the brands that I was helping to build and realized that I didn’t see myself in them. It made me think – how can I help big brands and marketers make sure that they are correctly representing the demographics of the world? As we build these great future companies and technologies, we need to make sure that we’re not leaving behind a huge group of people.”
She turned her energies to creating accessible wearables for people of all abilities at the Open Style Lab at MIT, and became the Inclusive Design Lead at Wunderman Thompson – Tommy Hilfiger’s partners in creating an Alexa Skill that would transform how people can buy clothes.
I was looking at the brands that I was helping to build and realized that I didn’t see myself in them. It made me think – how can I help big brands and marketers make sure that they are correctly representing the demographics of the world?
Now available in the U.S., the Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive Skill enables any shopper to navigate through the Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive collection using only their voice. They are first given the option to learn about the available clothing, and when they’re ready to shop, they are asked their gender (including a non-binary option) and their individual dressing challenge. This was an important part of the design, Christina explains. “When you make it about the dressing challenge and less about the disability itself, you reduce some of the stigma.”
Next, the shopper is asked about the type of clothing they’re looking for – such as T-shirts, jeans, sweaters – and then each item is audio-described. They can then select a size and color and add it to their shopping cart – all by using their voice.
To develop the Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive Skill, Christina and her team at Wunderman Thompson worked closely with the innovation team at Tommy Hilfiger to learn from people with disabilities.
“We noticed that a lot of brands who claim to support people with disabilities don’t have people with disabilities at the center of the project,” Christina says. “But that was key at Tommy Hilfiger. Their motto is ‘we know what we don’t know’. That’s why they really invested in research with the community to make sure this was an authentic product and experience.”
The result is technology that has the power to make a profound difference to people’s everyday lives. “The whole disability community is living in a world that is not created with them in mind. A simple task on a desktop or mobile device takes about double or triple the time compared to someone with full mobility. Time is the most coveted thing for humans – and I use so much of it trying to interact with products and devices that weren’t made with me in mind. Technology like this means I can get a huge part of my life back.”
Technology like the Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive Skill sends a message, Christina says. “It’s not a charity – designing for these edge cases leads to innovation. And it tells other brands that they can do this too. Soon it will be easy to order your groceries or make appointments using your voice.”
Time is the most coveted thing for humans – and I use so much of it trying to interact with products and devices that weren’t made with me in mind. Technology like this means I can get a huge part of my life back.
Christina hopes this is just the beginning of a wider movement. “We need an inclusion revolution. People with disabilities are the largest minority, and the only minority that many people will be part of at some point in their life. Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive communications accurately represent the disability community by featuring people with disabilities living very full lives.”