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Fashion Meets Function: Israeli Students Design for the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo

Fashion Meets Function: Israeli Students Design for the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo
Vital Singer © by Michael Tzur

Fashion design and textile design students at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design put their extraordinary talents to the test this semester, in a hands-on course dedicated to designing and producing clothing for disabled athletes. 

The “Good Intentions” course has been taught for three years now at Shenkar College, with a goal to spread positivity through various service projects from one year to the next. This year, in the most hands-on project yet, Shenkar students worked one-on-one with athletes to design custom clothing that fit their specific needs, in collaboration with the Paralympic Sports Committee. “Normally students design for the perfect body, and everyone’s designing for the same figure,” explains Maya Arazi, a senior lecturer from the fashion design department. “The whole beauty here was the customization and personalization for each person.”

Henry Chen from the Shenkar Project © Tamir Rogovsky

Throughout the course, fashion and textile students crossed into new territories by working collaboratively amongst their disciplines. While they often remained within their specialty, students not only designed the cut of the clothing, but also made the actual fabrics. To create the most functional pieces for those with disabilities, the students were challenged to change their way of thinking in order to craft creative solutions. For example, students designing for those with prosthetics had to take the athletes’ aberrant body temperatures into account, working only with lightweight, yet durable fabrics.

For Nadav Levi, an outstanding bocce player, putting on a jacket is an impossible task. He faces several challenges dressing himself and properly fitting into clothing due to cerebral palsy. Levi always dreamed of having a tailored suit to wear, so two Shenkar students, Tamara Amit and Golan Giladi, designed a jacket and pants set for him made from specific materials that allow him to dress independently. Levi also cannot grasp an umbrella in his hand, so for when it’s raining, the students made him a raincoat apparatus with a hood that he can put on himself.  “For me as a teacher, one of the most important things to teach a student in today’s world is designing with empathy,” says Tamar Many, a senior lecturer in the visual communication department at Shenkar College. “It’s an important thing to educate students with the human angle always in mind.”

Nadav Levi © Michael Tzur

Hanna Hamam and Shani Yosef, two design students, did just that when designing an outfit for Vital Singer, a 29-year-old ballroom dancer who became wheel-chair bound after fighting a rare form of cancer when she was younger, which affected her spine. The students designed elaborate costumes for her to wear during her dance performances, all while incorporating her wheelchair into the costumes.

Dancer Vital Singer © Michael Tzur

The students’ masterpieces not only address the athletes’ physical needs but were also customized based on their personal styles. Students sought to understand how the athletes’ bodies worked and also delved into their worlds after having several meetings with them throughout the course. “In line with Shenkar's interdisciplinary activity, working with real, human physical needs highlighted the advantages of teamwork and collaboration between the fields of fashion and textile design, from the stage of material development to the creation of fashionable ensembles for the athletes,” explains Hadass Himmelschein, the head of the textile design department at Shenkar. “There was something almost magical about the dialogue that was created between the students and athletes,” Many says. “The athletes gave so much in positivity and feedback; a true inspiration for the designers. There was a real synergy here.”

Henry Chen © Tamir Tamir Rogowski

Some especially talented athletes will compete in the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo, wearing the pieces made by Shenkar design students.

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