Shalini Visakan had dreamed of being a fashion designer as a young adult but she did not get the encouragement or support from her family. Her father passed away when Shalini was very young and she had to take up a job as an administrative staff in a school in Hyderabad to support her family. She completed her B.Com through distance education but her passion for fashion designing always kept her dreaming. Her husband, who is a polio survivor and is wheelchair bound, helped her make this dream into reality by enrolling her in NIFT. “My classes used to be in the evening, which made it easier for me to manage my personal life,” adds Shalini.
As a child, Shalini was very bold, happy and imaginative and these are the very traits that helped her achieve the almost impossible. Her husband’s encouragement also gave her the much needed push.
Today, Shalini Visakan designs Indian and Indo-Western wear for differently abled people. She began with creating functional accessories to make travel easier for her wheelchair-bound husband. She first designed belts and handles that were attached to his clothes, so that he could be lifted easily. Then she designed garments he could easily wear. The fashion design graduate from NIFT, Chennai, also designed a single-piece saree for her wheelchair bound aunt, which did not require an under skirt and also had an attached blouse. There was no looking back when she realised the change it had brought in the lives of the differently abled and went on to launch her own adaptive clothing brand, Suvastra Designs.
But it wasn’t a smooth ride. The needs of the differently abled are quite difficult to understand and vary from person to person and conditions. And to implement the changes in design is no child’s play. It requires a lot of research and an innate sensitivity to understand the limitations of these people. “Because every person has different needs, there is always need for customisation. It may take even three to four trials sometimes to get it right. The tailor must understand the design. And sometimes it may not be cost effective,” explains Shalini. Her research involves working with differently abled children and their parents.
Her first collection consisted of 10 Indo-Western party outfits, five for men and five for women. The outfits showcased were designed specifically for the models and were made of cotton and linen fabrics that Shalini vouches are the most comfortable. But sometimes she also chooses the fabric according to the occasion. Four women students, three other working professionals, and Shalini’s husband were among the models who took part in the showcase.
The designer has been recognised with three awards till date. She is soon planning to start an exclusive store for adaptive clothing, which is also affordable as well as highly functional. “I charge only the material cost and the stitching charges. It starts from Rs. 1,000,” says Shalini. She has come up with some ingenious ideas like replacing zips with Velcro and regular buttons with magnetic ones to make life easier for people with disabilities.
The designer feels there should be adaptive clothing stores on par with other fashion stores. She wants more designers to work in this area since so little has been done till now....