Patti + Ricky partners with Austin-based businesses to provide adaptive products for people with disabilities and health and life-phase needs.
By Abby Hopkins, Photo courtesy of Patti + Ricky
When Alexandra Herold’s fashion-forward mother got sick with brain cancer, Herold struggled to find functional and attractive clothing for her. After searching tirelessly for a fashionable cane, Herold finally discovered a pink one with roses that would do. But the experience made her recognize there was a widespread need for adaptive products that were stylish and less institutional-looking.
“I saw the power of fashion with this cane that was beautiful,” Herold says. “People would stop her and compliment her cane, and it created conversation. Prior to having the cane, because she had lost her hair, people were talking to her like she was a baby. The cane really allowed for people to treat her the way she deserved to be treated.”
Herold drew inspiration from her mother, Patti Connell, from her cousin, Ricky Warga-Arias, who was born unable to walk or talk, and from her own experiences with ADHD, anxiety and dyslexia to create a marketplace for adaptive products. She says because of her familiarity with disabilities, she has always seen them differently and felt the apparel industry didn’t have sufficient options.
“A lot of clothing does not work for people with disabilities,” Herold says. “Clothing, in general, doesn’t work for most people. I always have to remind myself that there didn’t used to be maternity clothing and there didn’t used to be plus-sized clothing, so we’re really hoping that adaptive clothing becomes this new category.”
Herold’s company, Patti + Ricky, is an online marketplace that curates adaptive products designed by existing businesses for people with disabilities and health and life-phase needs. Popular items include stylish denim jeans for people who utilize wheelchairs, lingerie for women with breast cancer, fashionably designed arm slings and fidget jewelry for people with anxiety.
“It’s important to us that our clothes are not stigmatizing,” Herold says. “They’re just beautiful clothing anyone would be proud to wear.”
Patti + Ricky partners with more than 75 designers, many of whom have disabilities themselves, are loved ones of individuals with a disability or are medical professionals. Two designers, Inclusive Greetings and Abilitee Adaptive Wear, are based in Austin. Inclusive Greetings creates stationery that allows individuals to literally feel the art on the card, while Abilitee Adaptive Wear sells adaptive apparel for people with disabilities and medical needs.
Julie Sanchez, co-founder of Abilitee Adaptive Wear, is a pediatric surgeon and ideated a bodysuit for patients to provide easy access to feeding tubes. The design came about after she spoke with a patient’s mother about the everyday difficulties she faced with her child’s feeding tube.
“It was the first time I got to see how, as a medical community, we’ve failed to empower our patients once they’ve left the hospital, especially once they’ve left the hospital with a device,” Sanchez says.
Sanchez and Co-founder Marta Elena Cortez-Neavel began researching and realized fashionable adaptive products were a huge need in the medical and apparel industries. Abilitee Adaptive Wear was born with the hopes of empowerment, inclusion and preventing unnecessary emergency hospital visits for patients.
As the company has developed, the staff has continued to create more products, including ostomy covers and waistbands for abdominal support. Cortez-Neavel hopes the products can benefit different types of patients and preserve confidence and dignity.
“If we can address something through clothing and creating these beautiful products, we’re hoping we can make a larger difference in their lives than just the functional value of being able to access your medical devices,” Cortez-Neavel says. “We’re showing them we’re there for them and they deserve clothing that works for them.”
Despite the progress, Herold says there’s still more work to be done in terms of creating products. Her goal is to no longer need a suggestion section on her website because each person would have access to what he or she needs.
“I get to help people every day with disabilities feel great and find things that make their lives easier,” Herold says. “Prior to that, I was searching for something that would allow me to help and be an ally for people with disabilities. Now I get to do that every single day.”