When Karen Bowersox’s granddaughter Maggie was born with Down’s syndrome, she saw the challenges her mother faced to find clothes which fit her properly. After extensive research, she still was unable to find any clothes made specifically for people with Down’s syndrome, so she decided to take matters into her own hands, and the result was her own fashion line – Downs Designs.
A resident of Ohio, 65-year-old Karen is the mind behind Downs Designs, a company which makes clothes for people with Down’s syndrome. While her granddaughter, who is now 9 years old, may have been the inspiration behind her fashion line, she is far from being the only customer. Downs Designs’ Facebook page has as many as 41,000 fans, and the numbers keep growing. “It feels remarkable to know I’m making a difference, with something as small as a pair of jeans,” Karen says while talking to The Positive.
Explaining what kind of challenges people with Down’s syndrome face, Karen notes it is congenital, and results from challenges in the chromosome, having intellectual and physical affects. She says, “Usually the ones with Downs’s syndrome have dissimilar body shape. They have short bones and their knees bend at different places. Many have short legs and arms. Hence the clothes are available off the rack are usually unsuitable for these people as they make them look different.”
With a simple wish of dressing her granddaughter smartly, Karen started the company in 2010 out of a warehouse in Mentor with designer Jillian Jankovsky. Now in just four years, they are catering to orders from worldwide. “People with Down’s syndrome have enough challenges in their life. Why do clothes be one of them? This was the thought with which I started this company. I wanted to provide them with a solution,” Karen explains, adding, “The response has been so remarkable because there was such a big need for something like this. In the US alone there are approximately 400,000 people who are affected. We now have people following us in 20 countries and we are shipping all over the world.”
With every order being tailor-made according to the needs of the customers, Downs Designs now offers 18 different styles of jeans for men, women and children. They are made out of spandex, and have an elastic waistband which allows the person to dress him or herself. “As is with these people, many go to school and have jobs, however, they still may need assistance with buttons and zippers. We want to give these people independence as well as style with our clothing. Zero buttons and zippers means they are able to now dress or undress independently. This obviously makes a big difference in their life. When they wear our pants and they fit and they look and feel more comfortable, they may be confident in themselves,” says the proud entrepreneur.
This year, Downs Designs has introduced a new line of jeans called NBZ, especially for those with arthritis, multiple scoliosis or Alzheimer’s. “Extending our line to suit the needs of these people felt like the natural thing to do. As many as 30 million people worldwide are affected…and we want to give them a chance to dress up as they would love to,” she says.
Planning to add more styles and sizes in future, Karen says, though she loves her job and plans on continuing to grow, she wishes, a little bit of help financially from people might be “great.” “I would relish some help financially. As we’ve discovered that the clothes that we are making are helping people gain confidence and self-esteem, I would love to expand my line to include coats, shirts and even some trendy accessories. You see, people with Down’s syndrome may be mentally challenged, however they experience the same emotions as the rest of us. They want to wear cool stuff just like everyone else, and I would love to fulfil all of their dreams,” Karen says.
Visit www.downsdesigns.com for more info.
What benefits might high street retailers like GAP or ZARA gain with a special clothing line?