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Meet Camila Chiriboga: Pioneer of Fashion for the Blind

The fashion industry is a major tool of power. Today, more so than ever, fashion is also being used as a platform for inclusion.

Designers have a way of interpreting how humanity is evolving as a society. This become a useful tool to make positive changes to the world through their work.

One of these designers, Camila Chiriboga, a 23-year old Parsons New School of Design graduate who earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in fashion design with a minor in creative entrepreneurship, chose to take a stance and disrupt the way the average person views fashion by designing a men’s line of clothing for blind shoppers.

Chiriboga is a creative strategist that specialize in inclusive design for the innovation lab LIO. She wanted to be able to explain this whole visual realm to those who cannot see it.

Chiriboga, who is originally from Quito, Ecuador, had an extended stay in the hospital. She started this journey of creating this collection during her stay in the hospital.

“I realized how vulnerable I felt when I could not dress myself or choose my own clothes. I noticed what little consideration has been placed on designing clothing for many daily challenges related to health.

That experience gave birth to my passion, which lies at the intersection of fashion, technology, and health. Previously, my focus was on creating fashion for special people, specifically in terms of chronic diseases or disabilities,” she said.

Chirboga’s brand, ve°, aims to work and collaborate with the blind and visually impaired throughout the production process.

By including special features in the clothing, such as attributes that would help with identification, interaction, and safety. The blind community gets a better sense for what they are putting on each day.

These elements more specifically include:

  • the clothing being multi-faceted to make certain pieces reversible
  • designing a tagging system for smartphones that is based on a new textural
  • audio language that describes what a garment looks like visually
  • empowering people to shop for and choose their own clothes
  • transforming 2D graphics into 3D textures by texturally representing what the clothing would visually look like
  • making the dressing process more intuitive for the user by basing garments on classic pieces we can all identify
  • boosting safety by putting closures on every pocket on all jackets, pants, and shirts and this prevents misplacement of things
  • making sure that each component of her thesis work with current assistive technology. GPS navigation for the shoe line which guides the wearer through vibrations

Artisanal shoemaker, Jorge Chicaiza, helped the company Lechal to create wayfinding espadrille shoes that use assistive technology.

“My own bluetoned, clean, classic men’s workwear design aesthetic, influenced the style of clothes.

What my collaborators needed for daily lives and pieces that they always wanted ultimately guided this style of clothes. For example, the texture of velvet on the edges of pockets fascinated one of my model.

This helps to easily identify their location. Contrarily, Street wear and shoe fanatic clearly inspired another model who was in his last year of highschool. So, I created t-shirts for him to go with his personality and style.

And for the other, I created a twist on classic button down shirts. This he can use both to the office or interviews and for casual occasions,” Chiriboga said.

Chiriboga started research on creating this line while volunteering at Visions Center for the Blind in New York City. She learned from daily interactions with adults and teenagers who were blind and visually impaired.

Chiriboga went through great lengths to search for more inclusive design. She followed people who used assistive canes to navigate the city. She also studied the practice by trying to dress herself blindfolded everyday.

Chiriboga then gained further insights from working with external caretakers, educators, and assistive technology specialists.

But the most important part of this process to her was when she began collaborating specifically with 3 blind men.

She ultimately created the pieces in the collection for these men, based on their needs, desires, and personalities.

This collection also led to an award nomination and win from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). This was competition based on the ability to identify a critical design issue facing an aging population or user.

The collection was able to lead because of its advancement in researching and developing a design that addresses the issue. It also produces a garment or product that solves the identified problem.

The largest population of people who are blind and visually impaired are above the age of 50. Coincidentally, Chiriboga started all of her research with this group of people.

Winning the competition later led to the opportunity to create a video about the life of these collaborators and the work.

Thanks to the networks of the AARP, the video gained nationwide recognition and was nominated for the Webby Awards as a top five video in the world in the category of fashion.

Chiriboga would go on to say, “By fostering deep connections with my wearers, their communities, and including them in the design process, I have been able to identify their challenges and offer viable, practical and innovative solutions.

Inclusive design is not only adjusting existing products for people with different abilities but also taking into consideration their lifestyle so as to identify necessities and offer solutions for their daily challenges in a holistic way.

During this process, I have found there are endless possibilities within the system of fashion. This is to intervene and create alternative ways to widen the scope of inclusiveness.

This space still has many unchartered territory to explore and needed support to provide greater accessibility and inclusion.

We all use this medium of art called fashion on a daily basis to represent who we are and shape who we want to be.”

This line, is still in the refined prototype stage. She completely designed them by herself and sewed with some help from the Ecuadorian-based company Dormel.

Chiriboga hopes to continue with improving upon before trying to launch the apparel.

By: Mohamad Hashash

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