Fashion Design Students Collaborate with Special Olympics Athletes for Inclusive and Innovative Uniforms

Course students co-designed new uniforms with swimming and wrestling athletes, including the wrestling singlet proposed by Izzy Wu

Fashion Design Students Collaborate with Special Olympics Athletes for Inclusive and Innovative Uniforms

Special Olympics was founded over 50 years ago and has since grown to encompass events and competitions that take place throughout the year and around the world. They are the largest sports organization in the world for people with intellectual disabilities and have over 5 million athletes.

Three years ago, the organization entered into a partnership with the BFA Fashion Design program at Parsons, where students, in a semester-long course, collaborate with different athletes to design new uniforms that allow athletes to reach their full potential. Since the partnership began, the students have developed innovative design ideas with swimmers, weightlifters, ice skaters, runners, and more.

Lucy Jones, Fashion Design ’16, and Ranjit Lalvani co-taught this year’s class, where students co-designed uniforms with swimmers and weightlifters, and debuted their proposed designs at a thesis session criticized in part by Nigel Barker, the famous photographer and TV personality. Five athletes participated in the course this year, and it remains a highlight for the design students as well. The thesis presentations can all be found on Youtube.

“It’s hard to say what was the biggest learning outcome of this course because it brought challenges every step of the way, but it definitely taught me to be compassionate and confident when he’s invited into another person’s life,” Izzy Wu, Fashion Design, shared. ’23. “I think speaking clearly and having confidence in my designs was something that appealed to athletes, and that meant practicing and putting effort into my public speaking and presentation skills.”

Jessica Spitz, one of the Special Olympics New York athletes on the course, was inspired to participate because of Parsons’ reputation in the fashion and design community, as well as spreading the message that inclusion and fashion can go hand in hand.

“What I enjoyed most about working with the students was seeing how passionate they were, how they really took our ideas, and how very inclusive it was,” Spitz said. “We were getting emails every week asking for feedback, so it was really a collaborative effort. What I like the most is that it makes me feel like I was part of creating a such work of art and it makes me smile when I see it.

The course is structured so that rather than the athletes serving as clients, dictating their wants and needs, they work alongside the fashion design students to co-design their uniforms, with various feedback sessions and interviews to help themselves. ensuring that the final product aligns with the vision of both. athlete and designer. The designs offered range from solving problems athletes have had with their wrestling singlets to updating traditional sports gear with new colors and designs that better reflect the personality of an individual athlete.

“This course was the first time I was introduced to the world as a designer and I felt like I was heard when I brought ideas to the table,” Wu explained. connect with people in the industry and connect with a community that can say ‘no’ to my designs. Collaboration like Parsons and Special Olympics allows students to interact with larger concepts and communities outside of school and allows for growth in a way I’ve never seen in a classroom before.

Drawings proposed by Ramneek Bhalla for Michael Bub, a swimmer
Izzy Wu’s Jersey Addresses Concerns About Going To The Bathroom Quickly And Is Shown In This Poster Guide

Parsons educational mission and vision is grounded in the idea that design can help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, and the partnership with Special Olympics is one of many recent examples where students, teachers and alumni challenge themselves to develop solutions.

Students from the School of Built Environments recently collaborated with NIO, one of China’s leading manufacturers of high-end smart electric vehicles, to design new products with leftover materials from automotive manufacturing, including airbag fabric. , safety belts and buckles and a car seat cover, while MA Fashion Studies students from Parsons Paris have partnered with the Palais Galliera – Musée de la mode de la ville de Paris for a research project exploring the problematic history of certain objects.

For Wu, working with Special Olympics made her a more considerate, flexible and passionate designer, and gave her the opportunity to see her designs represented and accepted by athletes.

“The experience has shown how difficult it can be to create a project that shows both the athletes’ strong sense of identity and my own choices as a designer,” she explained. “But being able to bring the athletes’ wishes to life and see the glint of happiness in their eyes was well worth all the compromises.”

Spitz echoes Wu, noting that “I think working with Parsons is so important because it does several things, it benefits students by teaching them how to make adaptive clothing and also to make the impossible possible, it also creates the ‘inclusion.”

The course also gave Spitz insight into the fashion industry, where she sees many parallels with Special Olympics.

“I felt like this course is incredible and gives us athletes an incredible opportunity. In the fashion world, they kind of use our athlete oath:

Let me win
But if I can’t win
Let me be brave in the attempt

That said, in fashion, you try and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you keep trying.

Jessica Spitz with her custom wrestling belt inspired by her pet dragon which was co-designed with fashion design student Katrina Cherk

Joseph E. Golightly