The entrepreneur shift: a clothing company making unique clothes

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Downs Design® and NBZ Jeans® with  no buttons and zipperless jeans addresses dressing challenges for people with special needs.

By Keri Bowers

I recently ran across an amazingly altruistic clothing company and fell madly in love with both their clothing line and their central mission.

As the mother of a very tall, 6’10” now-adult son – who had sensory issues as a child – I can’t help but wish Downs Design® and their NBZ® jeans line (no buttons, zipperless jeans) had been around when Taylor was a boy facing all kinds of issues with clothing, including function, sensory, size, fit and fashion. Oh how the chore of finding clothing for him might have been different waaaaaay back then!

Beyond great clothing, DD and NBZ have committed to community giving campaigns “Adopt-a-Jean-Friday” and “Support-a-Veteran Adopt-a-Jean” programs that strike us here at The Art of Autism and The Autism Shift as going above and beyond the norm – that is this company falls not just in the “me” catergory of business, but rather the “we” category of how to do business.

As the Art of Autism rolls-out our new-and-improved Autism Shift section of our organization – a place where we talk and share about the people, places and things we love in special needs to shift to more positive conscious action and discussions, we just can’t help but brag about this amazing company.

The ART of Fitting In: Clothing Should Not Intentionally Set Us Apart, while about fit, form, function, fashion, it is also about fitting in and doing good. Having special needs often makes it extra hard to fit in with peers in school, work, and in social circles. Clothing should not be a reason to make fitting in even harder. We asked Karen Bowersox, Founder/Executive Driector, and William Herron, Marketing Coordinator of Downs Designs and their NBZ® Jeans line some questions about their line and these values. Here are their much-appreciated answers.

What is the Mission of Downs Designs Dreams?

Downs Designs Dreams advocates disability awareness, promotes independence and instills confidence by designing, developing and marketing a special clothing line for special people to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities and their families.

Recently, as a non-profit organization we created both Adopt-A-Jean™ Friday and Support-A-Veteran Adopt-A-Jean™ programs in order to give our clothing solutions to those in need. Our mission offers fashionable clothing to those striving for independence by helping people with dressing challenges.

You also have an NBZ Jeans line. What does NBZ stand for?

Our NBZ® brand stands for “No Button, Zipperless Jeans”. This line fits people of standard size benefiting the elderly, disabled veterans, amputees, stroke victims or those with autism, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, arthritis, ALS, and many more. Both lines have soft stretchy denim, no button, zipper or tags, and an elastic waistband. They are also well tolerated by those with sensory clothing sensitivities. The jeans do, however, allow for belt use, have a mock fly, and come in different fashionable styles. They are so stylish that no one would know they were pull-on jeans.

How did your company come to be; what was the inspiration behind the concept for creating Downs and NBZ?

I (Karen) have a granddaughter who was born with Down syndrome. As I watched her grow, I noticed she was always tripping over her pants that were too long, and her sleeves were always dipping in her cereal bowl. I started researching online for clothing for a person with Down syndrome and it didn’t take long to realize there was nothing available. My mind wouldn’t stop thinking about ways I could make clothes that were appropriate for her unique body shape.
After calling our local design school, it was suggested I hire a designer to create a line of clothing for special bodies. They recommended Jillian, a young graduate who I hired immediately. At first, I thought I would make an entire wardrobe…oh, how hard could that be? I sought a loan from my local bank, thinking I could easily borrow $500,000 with such a great idea, right? Wrong. With limited funds, Jill and I decided to start with only one thing…jeans. Who doesn’t need a great pair of jeans? After nearly four years, we created 18 unique styles, with sizes that range from toddlers through adult sizes.

This year, Downs Designs Dreams was formed as a 501(c)3 corporation and both brands are now sold under one entity. The transition to a non-profit is helping our organization accomplish its mission of reaching out to more people in need and better serve more individuals with disabilities and their families.

Here’s Ana and her brother Alex in their new jeans from Downs Designs Dreams. Mom loves them and is adding them to her Christmas list.

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Why would a customer want to purchase your line – as opposed to just wearing a t-shirt and elastic waistbands?

Unless a person is directly affected by someone with special needs, they may not realize that they have serious clothing challenges. People will often look at a child who dresses unfashionably and assumes the parents don’t care enough to dress them in stylish clothing. But the truth is, the fashion world has not yet recognized the need for fashionable adaptive wear. So there are little options available for those who need special clothing. Just in schools alone there are three million children whose parents often sacrifice style for independence. They prefer that their child pulls his own pants down to go to the bathroom rather than rely on help from a caregiver. Many wear sweat pants or leggings that may not always be appropriate or provide any sense of fashion to assure their child has independence and comfort when going to the bathroom.

Our clothing provides fashionable wardrobe options that match one’s peers. Our line is specially designed to properly fit the unique body shapes of those with Down syndrome. Each pair is hemmed to order and tapered properly at their knee. Every customer is provided a free home try-on service to assure the proper fit and the customer marks the hem length so the length is always correct. We have 18 differently designed styles from ages two through adult based on body type. Our line designed its unique “dip-down” styles as about 80% of most with Down syndrome wear their pants below their tummies. When they do that, the crotch hangs practically at their knees and their backside is often exposed.

What makes your line fashionable/trendy and desirable to a consumer?

Our pants allow for belt use and have a mock fly allowing them to go unnoticed as adaptive wear compared to most others. The jeans also come in different styles. We provide light blue and dark blue in some options, as well as a wash effect with fashionable whiskering. The NBZ® Jeans have light, medium, and dark blue option that provides a designer look.

What is the inspiration behind Adopt-A-Jean Fridays, and Support-a-Veteran Adopt-a-Jean programs?

Life can be challenging for those living and caring for a person with a disability. High insurance rates, medical costs, and limited working availability can impact many families economically. One of our goals as a non-profit is to donate our jeans to families in need. Downs Designs Dreams has created its Adopt-A-Jean™ Friday Program to donate clothing solutions to those with disabilities and their families at no cost, upon submitting stories that educate others about the clothing struggles the face. Every Friday from those submissions we donate several pairs and hope the program continues to grow. Here is the link to submit for a donated pair of jeans: http://downsdesignsdreams.org/adopt-a-jean-entry-form

Our organization also has its Support-A-Veteran Adopt-A-Jean™ program that donates our NBZ® Jeans to veterans, veteran groups, and veteran clinics. William, our Marketing Coordinator is a veteran and works very passionately towards the success of this program. These programs make our clothing solutions available to those in need. Here is a link to more information about our veteran program: http://downsdesignsdreams.org/fundraising
In conjunction with our Adopt-A-Jean™ Friday program, we have had several other successful projects. We recently donated 50 pairs of our NBZ® Jeans to our local V.A. hospital. We are working with other V.A. hospitals around the country to do the same. We started a few programs with some of our local schools where students are raising money to donate jeans to some of their fellow classmates with special needs. We love the direction of our program and hope to do much more in the future.

Testimonials

Lindsay writes: In addition to Downs, Ana also has autism. She has a round tummy and skinny little legs and a tiny backside. Jeans are so adorable on her, but they have never fit her quite right. We tried adjustable waist jeans with zippers and buttons, but she can’t put them on herself and they always leave red marks on her little hips. In an effort to make sure she was comfortable, I resorted to dressing her almost exclusively in sweats and leggings. For years, I had been saying that I wished someone would make something almost like maternity pants for kids. And, here, you have done it! My daughter is making huge strides! She is making progress every day, and having jeans that she can put on by herself that won’t dig into her hips is just wonderful!!!”

Barbra writes: “Ryan is a very funny, talented and kind young man that happens to have Down syndrome and is autistic. Ryan has low tone and has difficulty with buttons and snaps. While he may be able to achieve a button or two it takes a very long time and the bathroom calls cannot wait!!! NBZ jeans give Ryan a sense of independence while getting to wear jeans again. No anxiety when using the bathroom either. The big plus is these jeans look like “typical” jeans and Ryan surely rocks them!”

Meet Ryan…rock’in his new NBZ® Jeans

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The Autism Shift is  a new section on The Art of Autism website which focuses on shifting views on autism. This includes innovative companies who have created products which help those on the spectrum.

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