OSL x Cooper Hewitt Workshop

As a disabled woman, writer, and a mom of two, I take every opportunity to normalize disability to children. Educating people about disability and showing that we are neighbors, classmates, parents, peers and indeed friends takes us out of the awareness workshop, week, month or ‘very special’ episode, and taking away the sense of otherness. So when I got the chance to create a workshop about disability and adapting design for Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian, It was a no-brainer. I’m the Content Development and Engagement Manager at Open Style Lab and my co-presenter and partner-in-brilliance Chau Nguyen is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist at IHope. As lovers of fashion who are not designers we put our heads together and created a project for two workshops that would be engage kids of mixed abilities and sensory experiences.

We chose to have the children create bags that were specific for the way they needed and used bags and stressed that adapting garments and accessories could be as simple as rolling up a sleeve or as complex as placing a strap or fastener or working with a wearers’ sensory or posturing needs. Our first workshop was part of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Mornings at the Museum a monthly program for children who have autism. These program veterans were focused, zealous and got started without needing to much guidance. A 9-year-old girl was passionate about color and explained that her favorite color changed annually on her birthday. Another participant utilized our stencils to trace and cut out the most intricate designs out of fabric to glue onto her bag. A fashion girl through and through her colors and patterns blended naturally into each other. Kids and parents alike had messy creative fun and some stayed into our mixed abilities program.

During our second workshop, kids of all abilities filled the room. We introduced ourselves, Open Style Lab (OSL), what our organization does, and spoke about how everyone’s body is different and needs and uses clothing and accessories in different ways. We shared pictures of prior Open Style Lab clients who made garments (with their teams) that worked for how they lived and would use them. Also the notion that adapting items is something everyone does and can do. The power to change clothing and accessories for the better, easier, and more useful is with them. Hands raced to the air when I asked how they adapted their clothes, and how they used their bags. Canvas, felt, and cotton, Oh My! The bags were made of different combinations of fabrics thread and embellishments ranged from sharpie to stenciled fabric, buttons and beyond. But the real most important component was the kids. Their energy buzzed. The children sparked ideas and their parents executed or helped executed based on their progeny’s age and abilities. With a variety of techniques and materials to draw from including fabric punching, gluing, sewing, embroidery, floss, yarn, and lanyard, there was no “wrong” way to construct these bags couldn’t as long as long as it worked for the kids (and some adults) using them. Chau and I saw tote bags, wristlets, shoulder bags, backpacks and more. There was no limit to innovation in style fastening and the way it was used on the body. One sassy teen girl, a wheelchair user who is a student of Chau’s created a cute fabric wristlet with a whale on it. Her speech output device punctuated the hum of the crowd with “Duh Chau”.

Canvas, felt, and cotton — oh my!

Canvas, felt, and cotton — oh my!

Words like adaptive buzz around without making a meaningful connection for kids. Chau and my goal of this workshop was to give kids an understanding of adapting clothing and accessories, a brief introduction to disabled young people who OSL has created adapted garments for and the opportunity to brainstorm and create accessories that were adapted for their needs and uses.

- Kieran Kern

Looking to create positive change in your organization? An Open Style Lab Inclusive Design Workshop will expose your team to people and ideas that drive creative solutions, can open new markets, and create a more open workspace. Contact hello@openstylelab.org.

Miga Swimwear: Casting off Stigma with Style

Need swimwear that reflects your unique style? A new swimwear brand emboldens wearers to embrace and celebrate every individual body, no matter its shape.

Founded by Maria Luisa Mendiola, Miga Swimwear is working to shift the paradigm in fashion where women, regardless of physical ability and diverse shapes, feel their bodies must fit an archetype to be deemed beautiful or stylish.

“Customers are not mannequins,” Mendiola explains. “The biggest thing for me, is that [in the fashion industry] women have to fit the clothes, the clothes don’t have to fit the wearer. With fast fashion retailers, every brand has its own sizing. The customer starts to internalize this and feels that their body is wrong.”

The designer, Maria Luisa Mendiola

The designer, Maria Luisa Mendiola

To counter the mentality that the body is a problem, Mendiola approaches her design by making the customer a part of the process from the beginning. All of an individual’s unique needs are considered when creating these custom garments.

To wit, Miga’s current clients include burn survivors from NY Presbyterian Hospital. Pieces include a seamless beach cover up for an individual who previously couldn’t wear jeans because the seams would aggravate her burn scars, and a swimsuit with matching gloves for a client with a scarred hand. The suits are bold and striking.


“Fashion is a cultural building block and we’re using it to break the stigma of disfigurement.” Marialuisa explains. “Owning your style and feeling confident is less about clothing and more about self-identity.”  

The idea of defying the current fashion industry to empower and celebrate women with different bodies came from Mendiola’s own struggles with disfigurement. Originally in finance, Mendiola switched gears to the creative when she decided to pursue her M.A. in design thinking at Central Saint Martins University of the Arts in London. Courses in her specialty urged designers to take inspiration from personal experiences to problem-solve.

Moodboard for brainstorming shapes and colors.

Moodboard for brainstorming shapes and colors.

Mendiola had plenty of material to work with. Born with brachymetatarsia, the fourth toe on both of her feet are smaller than her fifth. Back in her homeland of Costa Rica, where physical appearance is highly regarded, she felt self-conscious about going to the beach and other places where she might have to expose her feet because school friends would single out for her condition, especially since “everything else looked normal.”

“I always struggled with my disfigurement and even the weight of the word,” Mendiola said. “When people asked about my feet, I’d feel paralyzed and extremely vulnerable.”

Despite dealing with her condition all her life, even as recent as three years ago, Mendiola would freeze when asked about her toes. But taking part in the Saint Martins program encouraged her to dig deeper. Part of that awakening, she explains, included understanding that the current fashion industry demands standards of perfection that no one, disfigurement or no, can fulfill, something she fully realized when a volunteer model she was fitting a garment for started apologizing for her body.

“You can’t bring about change unless you change yourself first,” she said.  


That is what she feels Open Style Lab is getting right about fashion.

“I love the tagline ‘designing for people of all abilities.’ It gets right to the focus of style and function for everyone,” she said. After all, owning your style empowers you to own your personal story and reserve the right to define yourself.

To read more about Miga Swimwear, check out its Kickstarter here.


We invited the public to #HACKITBACK with us at the MEET THE EXPERTS EVENT on October 12-14th (FRI-SUN) at Chelsea Market (10th ave side) from 10-5pm. Participants were asked to hack existing products, make design sketches, and ideate on accessibility ideas with the Open Style Lab Team.

We’d like to acknowledge the support UNYQ, IKEA, and the NYC Accessible Dispatch Transportation Service for this event!




INC.LUSIVITY: A Panel Discussion Event

By Kieran Kern 


In New York City, nothing happens in a small way, so when a deluge coincided with the OSL INC.LUSIVITY panel at Yabu Pushelberg Studios, the panelists and attendees knew it was time to break out their chicest rainwear.

The panel consisted of industry professionals at the forefront of inclusive style discussing how businesses can open their organizations, products, and marketing to include all people regardless of gender identity, race, class, sexuality, or disability and move their businesses forward.

Fashion Editor, Lauren Chan ,moderated a panel that featured: Social Activist and Social Media Manager at the Met Kimberly Drew, 2 Blind Brothers Founders Bryan and Bradford Manning, and  Open Style Lab Executive Director Grace Jun discussed how and why businesses should embrace inclusion. Kimberly Drew is an African American woman in a field dominated by white men, she works to keep being heard and have a place at the table. In 2016, she took part in a call-and-response artist talk series called Ten Arguments. For her “argument”, Drew was paired with deaf sound artist Christine Sun Kim. “I realized, I didn’t know how to engage her.” She calls their first meeting a “talk failure.” Eventually they worked through it together. This illustrates how when people are underrepresented even the most forward thinking may not have the toolkit to engage them in a meaningful way. They just have to be willing to put in the work.

Bryan Manning, Bradford Manning (2 Blind Brothers), Kimberly Drew, Grace Jun, and Lauren Chan

Bryan Manning, Bradford Manning (2 Blind Brothers), Kimberly Drew, Grace Jun, and Lauren Chan

Guests, friends, and supporters of OSL's mission.

Guests, friends, and supporters of OSL's mission.

Two Blind Brothers speaking about scaling t-shirt business.

Two Blind Brothers speaking about scaling t-shirt business.

Bryan Manning says that technology, and social media has enabled companies to reach niche customers in a way that was impossible five years ago.  The 2 Blind Brothers inclusion strategy is three-fold. They market to their niche; the clothing is manufactured at the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind . Seventy percent of the staff are blind/have a visual impairment, and the profits go towards curing blindness. Bradford Manning expanded on targeting a diverse niche. “It’s not about virtue signaling, be super-authentic and genuine to the community you’re serving.” Grace Jun noted that “It comes down to having the conversation about ageism and disability.” Conversations about race, size, gender identity, and disability disrupt industries. She shared the importance of being a part of the community you serve, and of knowing where you want your company to go. “Approaching partners is like speed dating.” With a well thought out explanation of what you are doing, you show your commitment. In Drew’s industry, “Art is complicit in a lot of ways, it is comfortable with the ills of racism, ableism, and patriarchy.” She continues that when an individual is an expert or authority it can be hard to question them. Drew refers to herself as a “Warrior of Small Battles.” Email is her weapon of choice. She encourages others to call out the micro-aggressions that may be overlooked in order to keep moving forward.

To keep businesses moving forward Bradford advises that “When compassion fails, hit them in their wallet.”  The reality of is inclusivity, it is not just a “feel good” initiative for a business. Whether designing super-premium shirts, art experiences, or adaptive clothing, opening a brand up to diverse populations isn’t “nice”, it is necessary for businesses to maintain desired trajectory.  


About the Event:

INC.LUSIVITY brings together progress makers to discuss how businesses can make their organizations, products, and marketing more inclusive. Profits of the event will go to Open Style Lab, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making style and clothing accessible to people of all abilities. The panel consists of industry professionals/firms doing progressive work to move business forward:

MODERATOR: Lauren Chan, Fashion Editor
Kimberly Drew, Social Activist and Curator at The Met
Bryan & Bradford Manning, Founders of 2 Blind Brothers
Grace Jun,  Executive Director of Open Style Lab


Squarespace & The NY Knicks


Our work on making style & technology accessible for people of all abilities is powered by the MAKEITFUND by Squarespace x New York Knicks. We are proud to be named one of the four Squarespace Make it Awards winners and an Official Entrepreneur of the New York Knicks!

The award will support in the hiring of people with disabiltiies to the new 2018 team and provide material funds for our 2018 Open Style Lab summer program at Parsons School of Design, The New School.


WWW/FASHION: What's Wrong with Fashion?


www/fashion: A Panel & Showcase

By Pinar Guvenc 


To create a collective event series, Eray/Carbajo, has have been working on What's Wrong With - diagnostic panel discussion led by architects, designers, and creatives to assess problems in industries or fields and listen to proposed solutions by professionals doing progressive work. All events like www/Cities and www/Housing, all profits were given to nonprofits doing progressive work in corresponding fields. 

The What's Wrong With Fashion? (www/Fashion) brings together progress makers of the fashion world to diagnose today's problems and methods to bring fashion forward.  Industry professionals and firms doing progressive work to move fashion forward, had gathered at Parsons School of Design in New York to drive a conversation on the challenges in the fashion industry. From production line to education, each panelist shared the difficulties in scaling and creating an impact.


More about the event:

MODERATOR: Pinar Guvanc and Eray Carbajo


CFDA - Sara Kowlozski

The Two Blind Brothers - Bradford Manning

Open Style Lab & Parsons School of Design - Grace Jun



6:30 - 7:00 PM - Registration

7:00 - 8:00 PM - Panel Discussion

8:00 - 8:30 PM - Food & Drinks  * reception to show work here

Sign up: https://www.eventcombo.com/e/Whats-Wrong-With-Fashion-29770