Wearing for wellbeing

Pain and endless hospital visits led to designer Victoria Jenkins’ award-winning adaptive fashion brand, Unhidden. Here she talks about making universal designs for all bodies

By Nicola Baird

Victoria Jenkins
Victoria Jenkins. Photo: Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Fashion designer Victoria Jenkins became disabled in her 20s. This led to her setting up Unhidden, offering stylish and easy-to-wear clothes for people with all sorts of accessibility challenges. Now Victoria creates stylish, comfortable ‘adaptive’ wear that works for a huge number of accessibility and health situations whatever the disability – including for wheelchairs-users, people with stomas, Hickman lines, dexterity issues and more.

Now Victoria – who works in EC1 – has had the accolade of having been featured in Vogue. But most importantly, she has demonstrated that there is a definite need for her work. Her Unhidden trousers, for example, are a best seller.

“It’s far and away what we sell most of,” says Victoria who studied fashion design in London. “We have men’s and women’s version, seated and standard, so that’s technically four trousers [all are £70]. I’ve worked on tailoring at a variety of brands and it’s hard to get right, so to get it right for this community was a very proud moment.”

Last year Victoria had her first London Fashion Week event at the Instituto Marangoni followed by her debut runway show thanks to her partners The Bicester Collection and Kurt Geiger. Since then, her brand, media coverage and buying customers have all taken off – although this is fashion, so nothing is easy.

“I’ve been trying to work a four day week for the last year,” says Victoria. Wednesday is usually her rest day, so today she’s at home on the sofa. The rest of the week she’s at her office within Kurt Geiger’s head office in Farringdon.

“I live with chronic pain so pace myself with a rest day in the middle of the week,” she says. “At home I try and sit and do nothing, not physically moving.”

The idea of Victoria being in so much pain might seem terrible, but she talks about her situation in a matter-of-fact way, peppered with humour. She has, she says, a “number of conditions – paralysed stomach, diseased intestines and chronic pain – from a variety of surgeries. It’s a fun house in there. I refer to it as a ‘gift’ because it’s given me my purpose, Unhidden. Before I was trying to survive in fashion, and I’d given up all attempts of having my own brand. Now I have a brand, and it’s impactful.”

Alongside the popular tops and bottoms, Victoria is also proud of her dress from her new collection which works in three different ways: for short statures, wheelchair users and ambulatory design. “You can’t tell what I’ve done with it that makes it work but it looks like a nice dress which is great,” she says.

Customers often contact Victoria direct. “The feedback can be heartbreaking and sometimes the DMs (direct messages) are very intense,” she says. “People say things like, ‘I wish you’d been around when my mum was going through chemo and had everything stripped from her’, or just ‘I’m glad you exist.’ I get many stories like that. There are so many people who didn’t know they had the option, or they didn’t know what to look for.” As Victoria says, “Adaptive design works. It can be stylish, comfortable and accessible – and it’s not that difficult to do.”

Victoria wears her own designs. “At home I often wear my jersey culottes, which are really nice, made from heavyweight jersey with nice pockets, comfy and look good.” The idea for the culottes came after a hospital visit to UCLH, one of many stays for Victoria in 2016. “Another woman on the ward had had ovarian cancer, but as is often the case she had been left a number of lifelong conditions by the treatment. She had two stomas and a line for her arm and one in her chest.

“She made me think about adaptive clothing because she knew I worked in fashion and said to me, ‘I can’t wear what I want to and I can’t dress how I want to at work or at home’. In the hospital she had to take all of her clothes off, so doctors could access various parts of her body for examination. Someone should be doing it and it’s so obvious.”

Victoria started to research. “In 2016, there was not very much adaptive fashion and what there was looked very medical,” she says. “They were not made from the perspective of the people wearing the clothes, more from the carer’s perspective, so they could wipe it clean.” The idea fermented, and soon Victoria started creating designs with invisible zips, elasticated waistbands and adjustable aspects to allow for all conditions from bloating to colostomy bags.

Victoria now aims to take adaptive fashion into the mainstream. “Designing for disabled people means you are also designing for everyone else,” she says. “I’ve chased awareness because what I do is so needed, and it’s already led to a number of partnerships and collaborations with brands.”

Up to now Unhidden clothes have been made to order, but Victoria realises that people don’t want to wait two months, so the next step is to work with an investor and start to buy stock. She’s also planning to make adaptive suits and adaptive clothing for kids. For now her brand is online as bringing Unhidden to shops presents challenges. “There are places that are prepared to sell Unhidden but then I have the issues: is the shop and changing room accessible? To be truly accessible it would need a hoist and medically trained staff. How many shops have those? The goal is to have a stand-alone shop with all those things.”

With more than a billion people globally with some form of disability it’s incredible that so little clothing choice is around. Unhidden is giving that choice back to this growing market.

This article first appeared in Nicola’s blog, Islington Faces – see islingtonfacesblog.com Instagram for Unhidden and Victoria is at @Unhidden.uk and @VictoriaAnnOfficial

AdBlocker Message

Our website is made possible by displaying online advertisements to our visitors. Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker.

About EC1 Echo

EC1 Echo is your free local independent community news website. We publish stories to the web across the week and offer a platform for local people to highlight what matters to them. EC1 Echo is a not-for-profit project in partnership with the Peel Institute. Please consider becoming a subscriber supporter from £3.00 per month.
We need your help

Submit your listing here