Meet Xian Horn, a teacher, speaker, beauty advocate and Forbes blogger who is Making Her Mark through her contribution to adaptive fashion, and the self-esteem of people with disabilities all around the world.

Xian’s cerebral palsy manifests in muscle tension, muscle weakness, poor balance and coordination and dragging her left foot. She walks with adapted two ski poles for balance, which she says she occasionally dresses up to compliment an outfit, for example, black Satin for prom.

Through stories, workshops and mentoring, Xian works to contribute positively to self-esteem and the collective self-image, especially for women.

One not-so-obvious barrier to improving self-esteem is the availability of fashionable clothing that is easy to wear for people with mobility challenges.

Xian says:

“Unless you are 100% confident in every situation regardless of what’s going on around you, lack of options and accessibility definitely affects how we show up in a room. Lack of access to clothes you feel comfortable in is a subtle form of exclusion and can affect your confidence and the quality of interaction with strangers. The right clothes make you shine, help you feel your best, and are such an important part of self-expression.”

Common clothing challenges

Amongst her friends, and others in the CP community, Xian says shirts that need to be put on over the head can be a big challenge, especially for those with tension in their arms. Aside from this, she says there are some dressing challenges that many of her CP Sibs have in common.

“The consistent issues I’ve seen in the community seem to be with buttons and closures and with finding comfortable, sturdy, yet stylish non-hideous SHOES. Shoes are by far the most common issue among those of us with CP. For those like me who drag a foot you can end up with holes in your shoes in a matter of weeks… or embarrassed because the shoes you’re wearing are durable but not fit for the public—aka not fun to wear at school with friends or at a job!” says Xian.

Xian says that her whole life she’s paid attention to brands that had sturdier soles, like the Merrell branded shoes she wore in different colours for five years straight.

“Those shoes were casual and decent for business and I even wore them to weddings. But after a while, you crave something new. That’s when I discovered that I can wear a chunky heel in a nice boot for speaking engagements or a date and I feel like I’m dressed for my age,” added Xian.

A good relationship with a shoe maker has been a hack that has helped her immensely over the years to make shoes comfortable and extend their life.

“I’ve had them add rubber to strengthen the soles of my shoes before or after the sole has run through or even adjust an uncomfortable or inaccessible strap,” says Xian.

Getting involved in the field of adaptive fashion

Over the last few years, Xian has found herself a contributor to the field of adaptive fashion, beginning in 2016 working with Open Style Lab at Parsons.

In 2017 she was a model in the Cerebral Palsy Foundation’s (CPF) Design for Disability program, which saw the CPF partner with fashion designer, Derek Lam and six young designers from Parsons, Pratt and FIT to create six amazing collections of accessible outfits.

Xian says the experience was fantastic for her and the designers, as there was so much they were able to learn from each other.

“I personally got to learn from my Pratt designer Emily Ridings, about sustainable garments as she made my piece sustainable as well as accessible,” said Xian.

According to Xian, best practice in fashion design is facilitating ease of wear, considering as many unique bodies as possible, and making designs both accessible and beautiful.

“Being aware of the bodies out there and trying to design for everyone is important for looking towards the future of fashion. Also getting rid of unnecessary elements of fashion is important. Maybe your garment does not need a zipper or a button, and a sturdy magnet may improve the garment’s function and ease of access for anyone—not just those of us in the disability community or the elderly.”

Xian says that through her workshops, she found that her students with disabilities in their teens and 20s, with disabilities still have had their parent or Personal Care Attendant choose what they buy and what they put on each day their whole lives. In her classes she encouraged the girls she works with to choose their own. The ability to choose your own clothes and where possible, dress yourself, is vital, says Xian.

“Choosing what you wear is the ultimate expression of identity, independence and uniqueness.

“We deserve sexier options, professional wear, and especially in difficult times when dressing could be a form of self-care, we should be given options that help us feel at home in our bodies and our clothes whether dressing for ourselves or others,” shared Xian.

Xian’s new favourite outfit

Xian modelled in the New York Fashion Week show, Runway of Dreams in September 2020. Through a virtual format where models showed off adaptive clothes in videos from their home towns, Xian walked for Zappos Adaptive. The outfit she modelled has become one of her favourites.

“Typically, I like clothes that are flowy and a bit bohemian. So most days, I would have said [my favourite clothes are] maxi dresses, jumpsuits (purely aesthetic in this case, for my long body type, but still often inaccessible so I need help getting out of them) or tunics, but since walking in NY fashion week in Sept, my new favourite outfit is the professional wear Zappos sent me. This includes the amazing MagnaClick white business “button down” shirt with magnets instead of buttons. I also love my Tommy Hilfiger adaptive Seven7 jeans. For flawless design and beauty, these two NYFW pieces really impress me. The jeans really fit like they were made for me and flattered my behind #ThanksZappos #ThanksTommy!”

She adds:

“It gives me hope for the future of fashion especially making clothes not just for kids with disabilities, but for adults who long to present their best self at home, and at work, or on a date, and celebrate their bodies as they live full fulfilling lives of greater purpose,”  Xian concluded.

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