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Emmalene Meyers wears the adaptive clothing Brie Ericksen made for her. (Steve Gray)
Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SALEM, Utah County — Having an outfit tailor-fit would be on the top of any 16-year-old girl’s list of must-haves, and that was no different for special needs student Emmalene Meyers of Salem Hills High School who received just that from a fellow classmate.
Having been born with several disabilities including cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, and scoliosis, Emmalene has been confined to a wheelchair all her life. Even with her conditions, which also include the inability to communicate verbally, she has made many friends at her school who care for her.
One of those friends is 17-year-old Brie Ericksen. She met Emmalene as a peer tutor in junior high and continued that friendship in an American Sign Language class in high school. Brie, who has aspirations of becoming a fashion designer, took it upon herself to create what she calls an “adaptive clothing line,” for a variety of adaptive needs and thought of her friend.
“I entered a competition through FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America), and I knew I wanted to design a clothing line that would help others,” Brie said. “I thought about Emmalene and decided an adaptive clothing line would be perfect.”
According to Emmalene’s mother, it can be a challenge to find clothes for her daughter to wear.
‘It can be really hard to dress her because she has grown so much, and it is harder to lift and move her,” Meyers said. “She also has a feeding tube and one of her arms stays bent at the elbow, both of which can be a challenge as far as clothing is concerned. She is also pretty small for her age and wants the styles other teens wear.”
Brie took that all into consideration when designing a onesie, pants and a wheelchair blanket for her friend. The design process, she said, was challenging and rewarding.
“Because Emmalene has such a unique body type, I had to go to her house for fittings whenever I wanted to make progress on her clothes,” Brie said. “This made it difficult, but I was able to work it out. I’ve made custom clothing for myself, but it’s a whole different game when you’re designing for other people. I love how much I learned.”
A custom fit
One of the key elements to being able to not only design something that would fit Emmalee, but to make sure it would fit her style, was through using one of the things that brought the two friends together in the first place: American Sign Language.
“Brie came to our home to talk about what she wanted to do, to borrow a pair of pants and a shirt to help figure out the sizing and to measure Emmalene,” Meyers said. “She also came to let Emmalene choose which fabric she liked for each item and to do fittings … and she always communicated with Emmalene in ASL and really showed her how much she cared.”
“She also asked me what the challenges are for dressing Emmalene and adapted the clothing to help,” Meyers continued. “I told her that because Emmalene is very thin and sits in her wheelchair, it can be difficult to keep her warm; so she made a special article of clothing, that is kind of like a little sleeping bag out of thick fabric that slips over both of her legs and goes all the way up to her waist.”
All that time and effort paid off.
“Emmalene loves the clothes,” Meyers said. “She thinks they are cool and appropriate for the teenager she is.”
Brie designed three other adaptive clothing lines as part of her submission to the competition, including a line adapting to lupus, Down Syndrome and someone experiencing chemotherapy. The line earned her first place in the state. Bbut more than that, Brie said it was a fulfilling project.
“It is definitely fun to sew clothing for myself, but it is so much more fulfilling when you see other people wearing your clothing, especially when that clothing is helping their lives become easier,” Brie said.
Meyers said that while it was great having her daughter be the subject of Brie’s project, it was so much more than that.
“I so appreciate Brie noticing Emmalene and thinking about what she could do to help her,” Meyers said. “I especially appreciate Brie seeing past Emmalene’s disabilities and acknowledging and caring for her as a person.”