A Deconstruction | The Ableism Behind Tommy Hilfiger’s Adaptive Fashion Launch

Do you see what I see? This is often a question I communicate to my life partner when I’m shocked by marketing messages surrounding products that are meant for Autistic people.

I’m Autistic and disabled. My husband is not. Before we met in 2016, Bill had almost zero experience with Autistic culture and community. After we met …. well, he experienced culture shock on multiple fronts and, truthfully, so did I. We discovered that we shared a similar extended-family and socio-economic culture and history, including the same hometown and high school. Yet, even with that in common, it still took a lot of work on both of our parts to adjust to each other’s quirks, patterns and needs.

As much as I’ve helped my husband understand Autistic people and culture, he’s helped me understand neurotypical people and their social nuances better. Quite often, he helps me understand the disconnect of what I’m communicating to what’s actually being understood in my activism work. I greatly value our conversations and know I’ve evolved from them.

Nowadays, I often ask Bill, “Do you see what I see?”

And if he doesn’t, I explain my perspective.

His most common response is,“Now that I see it, I can’t unsee it.”

I tend to pay attention to context and patterns as much as, if not more than, actual words used in communications. Quite often, I find others are more focused on language and emotions expressed, and they seem to find value in that more than the truth or facts. This is the gap, or culture shock, I can’t seem to bridge many times in my communications with non-Autistic people.

Learning how to communicate with Bill more effectively is helping me to communicate with the non-Autistic world more effectively as well. I’ve learned that when I deconstruct the pattern I’m seeing into very plain language first, then follow it up with my perspective, it helps Bill, and others, to see what I see.

Below, I’m going to deconstruct an article about Tommy Hilfiger’s Adaptive Fashion Collection published on HollywoodLife.com December 22, 2017. I’ll highlight in bullet points what I’m seeing and then follow it up with a summary from my Autistic and disabled perspective.

Afterwards, I’ll ask the question: Do you see what I see?



Story >> Legendary Designer Tommy Hilfiger Has Created An Inspiring Collection Of Adaptive Clothing

Quote:

More than 3.5 million people have an autism spectrum disorder in the U.S., but until now there have been no clothing collections to meet their special needs. Tommy Hilfiger changed that.

There are many, many challenges faced by children with autism and their parents, as well as women and men on the autism spectrum.

Designer Tommy Hilfiger didn’t think that getting dressed, should be one of them. He decided to do something about it. Many of those living with autism have dexterity issues, spatial and perception issues, dyslexia and some have claustrophobia. That means that buttoning a button, and zipping a zipper can be a real impediment.

The Breakdown:

  • Tommy Hilfiger created an adaptive fashion collection for Autistic and disabled people.
  • Autistic children‘s parents are the target market.
  • Brief mention of Autistic adults.
  • Person First Language (PFL) used.
  • Adaptive needs described by non-disabled and non-Autistic perspective.

Quote:

Tommy Hilfiger was acutely and personally aware of these issues: “My family has been affected by autism and the experience has enlightened me to their needs”, he explains in an exclusive interview with HollywoodLife.com.

“I thought – wouldn’t it be great to take our (Tommy Hilfiger) styling and make it adaptable for children with special needs.” And that’s what he did — keeping in mind not just children and adults on the autism spectrum but also people who may be in a brace, or are amputees or who are suffering from cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spinal conditions or other disabilities.

“I wanted to help these people fit in and feel better about themselves and it makes the team here feel great,” explains the designer, who sits on the Board of Directors along with his wife Dee, of Autism Speaks, an advocacy and support group.

The Breakdown:

  • Tommy Hilfiger is a parent of an Autistic person.
  • Tommy Hilfiger, and wife, are board members of Autism Speaks.
  • Tragedy narrative: “affected by autism, suffering.”
  • Adaptive needs described in non-disabled, non-Autistic perspective.
  • Person First Language (PFL)
  • Inspiration or ‘feel-good’ for non-Autistic and non-disabled employees.
  • Autism Speaks reference. (Description adjustment: Autism Speaks is the largest private backer of Autism research in the nation, and a powerful force in lobbying for legislation in the United States.)

Quote:

The Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive Collection, which debuted for kids in Spring 2016, proved so popular that the adult collection launched this past Fall 2017.

The clothing totally mirrors the iconic look of the Tommy Hilfiger brand — All-American style with a modern twist — in lots of red, white and blue, pink and khaki. However, buttons and zippers have been replaced with hidden magnetic closures and Velcro, which make shirts, pants and dresses so much easier to get into and do up.

“We talked to a lot of parents, children and educators,” Tommy says, giving insight into how he and his design team created the collection. “A lot of parents have been having to alter their children’s clothes. And that takes a lot of effort and expense.”

.

The Breakdown:

  • Adaptive fashion collection originally launched in 2016 with focus on children.
  • Adaptive fashion collection for adults launched in 2017.
  • Hilfiger sourced parents and professionals for feedback.
  • Parents alter clothes to fit adaptive needs of Autistic and disabled children.
  • Expense of adapting clothes mentioned.

Quote:

He and the company have received an outpouring of grateful feedback from families and Tommy has learned that his customers are especially loving pieces with athletic inspiration.

“Everyone wants to look sporty, the sportier the clothes, the better they’re accepted.”

“Children want to fit in and look like their peers, no matter what,” Tommy explains, “Self-esteem is the most positive thing we can do.”

The Breakdown:

  • Positive feedback from families.
  • Feedback: Athletic inspired items well-liked.
  • Description of Autistic and disabled ‘wants’ from a non-Autistic and non-disabled perspective.

Quote:

Dad and customer, Billy Mann, agrees. His family has “been binging on the collection. Having options that are fashion forward is amazing,” says Mann, who has children on the autism spectrum, and is also a board member at Autism Speaks.

He is especially grateful for the easy magnetic closures and the soft, comfy fabrics in the Hilfiger Adaptive Collection. “Opening and closing a button can be challenging and some kids have hypersensitivity and can’t tolerate certain fabrics like heavy denim.”

Mann, who is a Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer, says that the Hilfiger Adaptive Collection has been “game changing for parents” and he credits Tommy for being a great listener and always thinking about solutions.

The Breakdown:

  • Testimonial by Billy Mann, an Autism Speaks board member and Grammy-nominated songwriter.
  • Billy Mann appears to be one of the parents Tommy Hilfiger listened to when designing the Hilfiger Adaptive Collection.

Quote:

To check out the collections — most pieces are under $100– go to TommyHilfger.com and click on Tommy Adaptive.

Hopefully, Tommy’s example will encourage other designers and clothing manufacturers to recognize the needs of people with challenges like autism. One in 68 children in the U.S. currently have autism and the prevalence of autism in U.S. children has increased 119.4 percent since 2000. Says Hilfiger: “We didn’t do this because we thought it would be profitable. We thought it was helpful and it’s a pleasure for me to do something positive.” Thanks, Tommy!

HollywoodLifers, are you blown away by the Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive Collection? Let me know.

The Breakdown:

  • Adaptive fashion under $100 for most pieces.
  • Hope to inspire other designers.
  • Tragedy narrative: Autism prevalence.
  • Philanthropic overture.
  • Person First Language (PFL) Used.

Breakdown of the Breakdown …

What They Say:What I See:
Adaptive Fashion CollectionAdaptive Fashion Collection
What: Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Adaption Collection 2016 and 2017

Target Market: Parents or professionals who love or know an Autistic person or Autistic child.

Price Range: Many items are under $100

Info sourced: Parents & Professionals

Marketing Verbiage: Person First Language (PFL) used. Uses inspiration language. Philanthropic overture. Uses autism prevalence.

Designer‘s Autism Experience:
– Tommy Hilfiger is a parent of an Autistic person.
– Tommy Hilfiger, and wife, are board members of Autism Speaks.

Product Experience:
– Athletic inspired items well-liked by customers.

Star Power: Billy Mann, a parent and Autism Speaks board member, quoted testimonial to collection.




.


What: Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Adaption Collection 2016 and 2017

Target Market: Autistic people and disabled people are not the target market. Reaching parents of Autistic people is the goal.

Price Range: Many items too expensive for many Autistics to reasonably afford.

Info Sourced: No Autistic included in this process.

Marketing Verbiage: Autistic Culture uses Identity First Language (IFL). Use of Autsitics as inspiration for non-Autistics. Tragedy narrative included. Philanthropic overture ignores the ROI this company receives in full for promoting philanthropist and their clothing line through the extensive Autism Speaks Influence network.

Designer’s Autism Experience:
– Designer is not Autistic.
– Designer didn’t consult with Autistic people.
– Designer is not connected to the Autistic Community.
– It appears designer is also not connected to the Disability Community overall.

Product Experience: Autistic people’s feedback, unknown.

Star Power: Billy Mann is not an ally to the Autistic Community.

Summary:

I want Adaptive Fashion, but at what price? I’m talking beyond the sticker shock of Tommy Hilfiger’s Fashion Adaption Collection being touted as having many items as priced under $100. The disconnect here with Autistic people starts with the inclusion of the tragedy narrative about Autism, and then it just keeps speeding deep into ableism with the marketing language, and completely fireballs into a dumpster by the time I read about the connection to Autism Speaks.

This collection absolutely fails the “nothing about us without us” motto for Autistic and disabled people. While the need for Adaptive Fashion in child and adult styles is incredibly needed, Tommy Hilfiger’s Adaptive Collection marketed for Autistics is steeped in ableism. The price to purchase an item will cost me more than a Benjamin. It’ll cost me my self-respect.

As a potential customer who’s Autistic and disabled, and a parent of Autistics, I’m shocked, frustrated and disappointed that Autistic people’s needs were determined by non-Autistic sources. I‘m upset that I don’t see the inclusion of Autistic people anywhere in the design of or making of this collection. I’m irritated that Billy Mann’s testimonial loving the collection is included and not one Autistic person’s feedback, or any unbiased feedback was mentioned.

What do I see? I see Tommy Hilfiger is a non-Autistic designer who wants to meet the adaptive clothing needs of Autistic and disabled people. I see the designer has no connection to the Autistic Community and is obviously unfamiliar with Autistic Culture. That, or the designer is insulting Autistics on purpose.

I see a designer who has an Autsitic child. I see a designer who sourced parents and professionals as a guide for Autistic’s needs and wants in adaptive fashion and style. I see the designer is a board member of Autism Speaks. I see a designer speaking for Autistic people as the voice of Autistic people. I see a designer speaking for us and getting it so wrong, while other non-autistic people cheer him on.

I see Autistics being used as inspiration or as a ‘feel-good’ project for non-Autistic employees. I see Autism Speaks mentioned again as a support group type organization. The reality: Autism Speaks is the largest private backer of Autism research in the nation, if not the world. They are also instrumental in lobbying for legislation for Autistic people and our healthcare, while excluding Autistic people from having a voice in the matter.

And I see the star power of Billy Mann being harnessed in a testimonial. Billy Mann is known as one of the creators of the worst propaganda Autism Speaks ever made: I Am Autism. He’s a bully of Autistic activists and has an ableist attitude and is unapologetic for the harm he’s caused Autistic people having to grow up in the shadow of his work.

I see ableism all through this article on HollywoodLife.com. It’s just drenched in it. It’s really frustrating and disappointing to read.

As a disabled and Autistic person, I have the privilege of having support in getting dressed daily. I have the support in getting undressed daily. I have the support in putting on my shoes, my jewelry and styling my hair. Having the privileges of daily support, means I also have the privilege to avoid purchasing from Tommy Hilfiger’s Adaptive Fashion Collection.

Not every Autistic or disabled person has the same privilege I do. Many Autistics don’t have the in-home support I do. Many Autistics survive on a fixed income that barely allows them to eat and have housing, much less purchase expensive clothing items – adaptive or not. Thankfully, I have the privilege, and love the experience of shopping at thrift stores, or vintage shops, and then applying my own fashion hacks to adapt them.

Now that I’ve described my experience of this fashion launch …

Do you see what I see?

Autistically,

Eve Reiland


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