"People ask me all the time if it is the larger things that trip me up when it comes to having a disability," says Shannon Dawn. "It really isn't. It is the smaller things, like tying shoes, putting on underwear — little things that you wouldn't expect."
That's where Slick Chicks comes in. The adaptive underwear line is pushing the boundaries of accessibility in the undergarment world and educating its customers along the way. The term "adaptive clothing" refers to garments designed with people with physical disabilities and limitations in mind; since not everyone is able to operate common closures like buttons and zippers, or possess the range of motion to self-dress, it is critical to have accessible options. The brand's adaptive underwear collection can be put on while laying down, sitting or standing, making it ideal for wheelchair users or anyone with limited mobility.
"They are really easy as far as putting them on as a wheelchair user; a lot of us have dexterity issues and can't actually pull on normal underwear," says Dawn. "With Slick Chicks, we don't have to worry about [if they are] going to come off or come down, or if they are in the wrong place — and they look good, too."
Helya Mohammadian, the CEO and founder of the brand, sought out to make something that was comfortable, durable and easily fastened on the side. The origin story is personal for her: After her sister's brutal cesarean section, Mohammadian saw the recovery process firsthand and realized immediately there was a better way. "She couldn't get dressed on her own," says Mohammadian, explaining that her sister needed the help of her husband throughout most of the recovery process. The idea for Slick Chicks came shortly thereafter, but what started as a line of panties for women in postpartum recovery quickly shifted into something else when Mohammadian saw the outpouring of messages from the disability community.
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Mohammadian had a choice: Completely pivot her brand or stick with her original idea. "This was so much bigger than me, I didn't care how long how hard how expensive it was going to be," says Mohammadian. "It is not just about underwear — it is about making companies more inclusive and embracing diversity. It is more than just saying you are an inclusive company, it is living it."
Their first collection, which has somewhat of a cult following on social media, is comprised of three styles — a thong, a hipster and a brief — but they have even more exciting developments coming down the pipeline. In the coming months, Slick Chicks will be launching a unisex line, as well as releasing a new adaptive style that is even easier for customers with dexterity troubles. They will also expand sizing; eventually they hope to have a size range that spans from XS to 5XL. On top of the inclusivity initiatives, they are also launching some more colors and styles (including a high-waisted version).
The underwear sits at the intersection of function and fashion, which makes sense considering that Mohammadian's background is in design. An alum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, she spent the beginning of her career at Carolina Herrera and Bergdorf Goodman but still felt that something was missing. Now, Mohammadian has created a brand that combines great design with activism.
"When I came on, I was like, 'Okay, I'm just going to be a blogger,' but Helya actually asked me about product designs or what I think would work for other people in the community," says Dawn. "Asking for feedback from the disability community, that is really big if you want it to be a fully inclusive line."
Slick Chicks takes accessibility seriously. Their Instagram is a celebration of diverse bodies and of women, unfiltered and un-retouched. Scroll through their feed and you'll see artist and writer Erin Clark pole dancing in their adaptable briefs, read stories of what it is to model as a disabled women — as well as feeding tubes and catheters and ports.
"This is not a 'niche' market as so many companies think: 1 out of 5 people have a disability and 1 out of 3 people know someone with a disability," says Mohammadian. "It is time for companies to start addressing the needs of all people."
Slick Chicks even has a blog, led by Dawn, which dives into issues that matter to the disability community and fights back against the idea that people with disabilities are somehow sexless. Dawn writes openly and honestly about her marriage, her friendships and her struggles. Dawn, now 38 and a mom herself, is based in Florida, raising a 12- and 13-year-old while writing for Slick Chicks and doing local work with disability organizations. She has made the Slick Chicks website more than just a place to purchase products; it also serves as an educational resource and a community where people with disabilities have a say in the conversation.
"If you are not disabled, a lot of people assume we are children or we look like children," says Dawn, who has been living with cerebral palsy since she was two-years-old. "Having a product that promotes empowerment of women and diverse bodies really makes a woman feel like 'I can tap into my womanhood, this underwear makes me feel like a woman, I can stand in my power,' and that is huge."
Adaptable clothing is starting to have a bit of a moment in the mainstream fashion world: Tommy Hilfiger just put out an adaptive line, Zappos continues to expand their adaptive options and brands like Chromat have brought dazzling body diversity and disability activists to the NYFW runways. Mohammadian's project does more than just impact Slick Chick's direct customers; it moves the needle forward and forces larger brands to consider their impact. It educates its blog readers on issues in the community and continues to challenge the way our society strips women with disabilities of their sexuality and their agency.
Across the board, we have started to hold brands accountable for their environmental impact and their dedication to diversity. Now it is time to do the same with accessibility, whether that means making sure stores have handicap accessible ramps and elevators or designing a pair of underwear that makes every day a little easier.