Causes Week: A more inclusive Singapore

Causes Week 2018: Will and Well designer Elisa Lim makes dressing up easier for those with disabilities

Miss Elisa Lim's label, Will and Well, focuses on making easy-to-wear clothes for those with special needs or disabilities. The clothes are aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.
Miss Elisa Lim's label, Will and Well, focuses on making easy-to-wear clothes for those with special needs or disabilities. The clothes are aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Designer makes dressing up easier for those with disabilities

It was frustration that first spurred Miss Elisa Lim to take up sewing. At 16, she suffered a serious knee injury and had to sit out the netball competition season as well as her Grade 7 ballet examinations.

"I was in a wheelchair for three months and I could only imagine myself as an old lady, hunched over sewing clothes," said the 24-year-old Ms Lim. Out of sheer frustration and anger at her injury, she picked up sewing.

To her surprise, she discovered she had a knack for using a needle and enjoyed it. Soon she became interested in the technical aspect of making clothes, and decided to pursue fashion design at Lasalle College of The Arts.

Her final-year project morphed into her own label, Will and Well, which focuses on making easy-to-wear clothes for those with special needs or disabilities. While other social enterprises help to train or hire beneficiaries, Will and Well is a for-profit business that aims to help people with disabilities through its apparel.

The idea to design clothes for those with disabilities came in 2015 when Miss Lim was approached by a doctor looking for clothes for his bedridden patients. And it felt like a perfect match.

She explained: "I never wanted to be a luxury fashion designer because that isn't accessible to most people. But this combined my passion for fashion with something meaningful."

Miss Lim, who graduated from Lasalle last year, did research for her cause: "I spoke to many patients and caregivers of those with different disabilities.

"And they're just like us. The conclusion is this: Everybody wants clothes that look good. They prioritise aesthetics over functionality."

 
 
 

With that in mind, she set out to create aesthetically pleasing garments that are also functional for those with disabilities.

While the label's first e-commerce collection, launched online last month, can be worn by everyone, it has inclusive features. Her shirts are made with magnetic buttons to allow those with impaired fine motor skills to dress themselves easily.

A pair of unisex trousers has zippers down the entire length on both sides so that those who are bedridden can be easily dressed by caregivers. It also has cloth handles on the back for caregivers to grab hold of when moving their charges.

"We also have to use natural fabrics like cotton or bamboo so that wearing our clothes for long periods is more comfortable for our wheelchair bound customers," said Miss Lim, who also caters to customisation requests.

Her e-commerce line has pieces costing up to $89 while customised items can cost up to $200.

Miss Stephanie Esther Fam is among those who seek Miss Lim out for alterations to her clothes. The 33-year-old freelance public speaker, who has cerebral palsy which affects her limbs, was approached by Miss Lim in 2016 for research on her brand. She also modelled for Miss Lim's final-year project last year, which she said was a dream come true for her because she had always wanted to be a model.

But it is Miss Lim's clothes that she truly appreciates. For one thing, they are made of "breathable" material, and so are more comfortable.

"And when I need help to wear my clothes, sometimes the materials are not flexible and I'll have to contort my body in a manner that hurts me," said Miss Fam. She does not have to do that with Miss Lim's clothes.

• Visit Will and Well at https://willandwell.com/

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'Line of beauty - with a functional cut '. Print Edition | Subscribe