An assistant professor of fashion at NSCAD University is in the final stages of a project, inspired by his mother, to design clothing for people with mobility issues.
Gary Markle says he learned a lot during the four years spent caring for his mother, Joan, who has dementia and is now in a nursing home.
Markle — who received a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research — has been working on fashion prototypes for people with various mobility issues since 2013. His line is called Well Worn.
Growing up, Markle remembers his mother always had a sense of style. But as the initial stages of her dementia progressed, her confidence in putting together outfits started to falter.
Seeking a solution, Markle and his mother collaborated on a housecoat that took her specific needs into account.
Together, they designed an outfit that could be put on easily, worn inside or outside the house and had three quarter length sleeves so they wouldn't "drag through her eggs at breakfast," Markle said.
He then realized that collaborating with people who have mobility issues would be beneficial for a line of adaptive clothing. Markle applied for a research grant with the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and started to work with a test group from Lunenburg.
Markle conducted surveys with a local social group of retirees called The Chowder Club, asking them about colour and fabric preferences but also specific needs as they pertain to mobility.
"What we found was that we could address some of these needs and still make the garment look beautiful," he said.
"A lot of the issue is about dexterity, tremors, strength of digits, that sort of thing."
Markle and his team discovered unexpected things, such as the anxiety that can be produced for someone with dementia in having a garment — such as a turtleneck — go over their heads.
"They don't really understand what's going on in the moment," he said. "They are in the dark and struggling."
Markle and his team are currently working on getting the Well Worn clothing line ready to be pitched as a business proposition for potential investors.
He says the experience has already been a profound one for him.
"Working collaboratively with my mother on this is significant to me," he said. "It honours that creative spark that she had, that she ignited in me."