By Christina Elston
Stephanie Alves started sewing at age 10, and grew up with a brother with developmental disabilities. The clothing available made it truly challenging for him to dress himself. This was in the 1970s, when there wasn’t even Velcro on tennis shoes. “When I was a teenager, my mom said, ‘Why don’t you make clothes for people like your brother?’” Alves says.
During more than 25 years as a designer – at Limited Too, Gap Kids, Ann Taylor, Harari, and with her own collection – Alves honed her skills. And then her stepsister, due to back problems, became a wheelchair user. She, too, struggled with clothing, and Alves stepped in to help. After a few conversations, Alves was able to modify clothing to address her stepsister’s challenges.
The idea for a business was born. But instead of designing clothes for adults, Alves decided to focus first on kids. Unlike her stepsister, who could point to specific modifications that would be helpful, “they can’t ask for what they need,” says Alves. In 2010 she launched The Able Tailor, making modifications to customers’ existing clothes so that she could learn about their needs and, eventually, manufacture a line of clothing to address them.
She spent a year altering clothing, talking with customers and their families, and even reaching out to organizations such as the CHIME Institute in Woodland Hills. Then she took her business to the 2011 Abilities Expo and took an informal survey to help determine the one item of clothing people needed most. “Everyone said jeans, because it’s the most difficult thing to get in and out of,” she says.
ABL Denim began in 2013 with four styles Alves created based on her research and customer feedback. And though she initially knew more about fitting people with physical challenges, after fielding a flood of requests from the autism community, she began creating jeans for people with sensory issues as well.
For kids, Alves has created the Sensory Jean, made from super-soft denim (feels like sweatpants) with an elastic waistband, few inside seams, and no zippers or rivets that touch the skin. She just added sensory shorts to in two lengths to the line. She also makes jeans for men and women that include features such as extra side-zippers, higher back panels and more forgiving fabric. She works with a range of denim fabrics, including the “super soft,” a more rigid style for the front panels of some jeans, and a super-stretchy denim with an easy fit. All of her styles are rigorously tested by kids and adults.
But perhaps most important, Alves makes sure her creations are in line with the latest styles, colors and denim washes, so that they look like the jeans everyone else is wearing – a huge factor for kids who want to fit in. “They’re 100-percent jeans, just like any other fashion line on the market,” Alves says.
Learn more about ABL Denim and The Able Tailor at www.abldenim.com.
Christina Elston is Editor of L.A. Parent.