Patients now styling with ‘help couture’

By Juliette Coulter

Fashion design students at Texas Woman’s University (TWU) have created yet another line of  “help couture” to address the specific needs of different people — in this case, patients at Scottish Rite for Children who are being treated for scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine. TWU’s Mass Production Techniques class designed and created 16 stylish ensembles that consider the experiences of patients undergoing treatment with the use of medical devices. 

TWU fashion lecturer Remy Odukomaiya shows clothing to a scoliosis patient.
Photo by Leo Gonzalez/Texas Woman’s University

On December 8 at Scottish Rite, they presented the fashion-with-function garments, which includes three different types of tops and three different types of bottoms that are all interchangeable, even down to the packaging.

Approximately two to three percent of the population in the United States is diagnosed with scoliosis, or about six to nine million people. While many children diagnosed with scoliosis only require observation or minimal treatment, some develop significant curves that cannot be corrected without surgical intervention. Severe cases are treated by gradual decompression and lengthening of the spine in preparation for surgery, which can involve a patient being placed in halo-gravity traction. In halo traction, a metal ring is held in place by pins affixed to the skull. 

This device is then attached to a pulley system that connects to the child’s bed, wheelchair or walker and uses weight to slowly stretch the spine.

Halo traction can make independent dressing and wearing typical youthful styles quite difficult, so the TWU students designed fashions featuring widened necklines, snaps and zippers in non-traditional locations, fun colors, and mix-and-match sets of tops and bottoms.

To inform their designs, TWU students visited the world-renowned Scottish Rite to learn more about the wants and needs of the pediatric patients being treated surgically for scoliosis. The project required a fundamental shift in the design, patterning and assembly process.

“Fun colors, fun gadgets on there, where they can actually feel independent, even though they’re dependent on the hospital for a lot of their needs,” said Remy Odukomaiya, Fashion Design lecturer at Texas Woman’s University. “The students started brainstorming. How are you to get a top over the halo? How do they open it up? What if there’s no nurse and they need to get that off on their own and you want to give them a sense of independence? So, we started drafting and redrawing and redrafting and redrawing till we got to a point where I said, I think we got the answers.”

The clothing donated to Scottish Rite is the most recent example of TWU students designing innovative lines to create solutions for people in different circumstances. In 2022, TWU designed garments donated to Denton community organizations serving men without housing, with each design offering thoughtful features like generously sized pockets, reflective fabric and adjustable drawstrings.

“It’s a whole different level of thinking,” further states Odukomaiya. “It’s not only about the aesthetics anymore; it’s about the function. You’re designing it, but what’s the function of it? Is it useful? Is it needed? Those questions have to be answered.”