One of America’s leading bag and backpack brands JanSport dipped its toe into the adaptive fashion market this week when it launched its collection of highly accessible crossbody bags and backpacks.
The adaptive clothing market, which is estimated to be worth some $490 billion by 2026 involves clothing and apparel that is designed to meet the needs of consumers with disabilities.
The market entry of the iconic bag and backpack brand, which dates back to the 1960s, is noteworthy as it represents a concerted effort from a mainstream player to break into a space that has traditionally been dominated by smaller specialist brands.
This has led to existing products appearing sterile, dour, overly medicalized and lacking the stylistic flourish of mainstream products – with a strong emphasis on functionality at the expense of form and aesthetics.
This is a shame because though backpacks and shoulder bags are commonly worn by all kinds of folks, whether they are commuting or just on a day out – they remain extremely useful for people with disabilities and mobility impairments in particular.
The reason is simple – on account of their complex medical conditions, people with disabilities tend to carry more gear around with them than the average joe.
This may include extra clothing, medical equipment, assistive technology and potentially walking aids too such as a folding cane.
The casual observer may, quite understandably, question why the need for an adaptive version of a relatively straightforward product needs to exist in the first place.
After all, shouldn’t it be the easiest thing in the world to simply sling the shoulder straps of any old backpack onto the back of a wheelchair – removing the need for a specialized product?
Unfortunately, as is often the case with disability – it doesn’t take much scratching below the surface to realize that it’s just not that simple.
Many wheelchairs are low to the ground and so there can be a tendency for extra messy straps to drag on the floor, or for shoulder straps and attachments to improperly fit the back of a wheelchair. This might lead to the bag loosening itself from the chair or the user having to wear or carry the bag in transit, which is uncomfortable and bad for their posture.
Given that many wheelchair users, and even part-time mobility scooter users, view their device as an extension of their own body in addition to the fact that successful adaptive living is often about the accumulation of marginal gains – the market has certainly been crying out for a company to devote some time and resources into addressing these issues.
Jansport’s solution entails a range of adaptive features including a reduced depth to make it easier for users to reach items at the bottom of the bag in addition to easy-release buckles and finger loops for individuals with dexterity limitations.
Anchor straps enable the bag to fit a wide variety of chair types and sizes, and secure the bottom of the bag to the frame or around the back of the mobility device with ease. There are also dual side grab handles and across the board, a choice of additional attachment points allows for an unprecedented level of customization.
This is further augmented by wearers having the option to unclip any straps deemed unnecessary and tuck them away.
Importantly, both the Central Adaptive Backpack and Central Adaptive Crossbody (available in black and misty rose color schemes) were codesigned alongside the disability community with help from the renowned disability advocacy group Disability:IN.
Disability:IN was able to link JanSport up with users to build out consumer focus groups whilst, all in all, the start of the project to product launch took a whole three years as the company was keen to ensure it had fully got to grips with the market dynamics and needs of its customers.
Monica Rigali, JanSport’s Vice President of Global Brand elucidates on this impressive journey of discovery:
“We’ve always felt we’ve been an inclusive brand over the past fifty years but we did pause to ask ourselves whether we truly were a brand for everyone,” she explains.
“We wanted to push on that a little bit and explore how we could make our product differently. In the end, we decided that, if we were going to call ourselves a brand for everyone, then we needed to put our full muscle behind that statement.”
The great news is that muscle memory can apply to corporate innovation just as in any other walk of life.
By embarking on this adaptive apparel enterprise, Jansport has both laid down a marker and developed significant insights and learnings that can be spun forward for future product lines.
In the very near future, this could involve something for individuals with sensory impairments related to touch and texture or skin sensitivities.
It’s all part of an important mission towards ensuring that people with disabilities can carry themselves, along with their possessions, with confidence and style.