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MIAD student designs accessible formalwear with the help of Independence First staff

Our neighbor, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, is currently hosting its annual Senior Exhibition on view now through May 11th. Product design student Zachary Scharrer reached out to Independence First to help with the vision for his capstone project, "Löwe," luxury, bespoke formal garments for users with physical disabilities.

Lowe display at MIAD's senior exhibition featuring adaptive formal wear

Lowe display at MIAD's senior exhibition featuring adaptive formal wear

In an article for Waukesha paper The Freeman, Sharrer said, “A big thing I found in my research was a lot of the design process for adaptive customers isn’t really involving the end customer. I wanted to make the connection to Independence First which is down the road from MIAD." The collaboration involved two Independence First staff members, Mike Wolfe and Emily Cadman, who both use wheelchairs. The two acted as clients, sharing their experiences with dressing and clothing as well as their personal style and tates. They were included in the design process from start to finish with consultation, measuring, tailoring, ending in a photoshoot with the final product for a display in the exhibition.


 Designer Zachary Scharrer takes notes w hile interviewing Mike Wolfe

Designer Zachary Sharrer takes notes in consult with Mike Wolfe

Scharrer chose the name Löwe, German for lion, exemplifying strength and confidence that can come from wearing well-fitted clothes. “Having something that’s made for you and just really fits your needs, where you can go out in the world and show up as who you really are,” Sharrer stated in an interview with MIAD on the project. The project involved many hours of work to turn the vision into reality. Keeping the end user in mind, there was back and forth on color and fabric swatches, sketches, and complex pattern-making tailored to specific needs while incorporating the designer's own aesthetic.

Mike smiles while being measured for formal wear by the designer

Mike smiles while being measured for formal wear by the designer

Mike and Emily had three sessions of fittings with the designer. The first was to gather information and measurements, the second to try on muslim versions of the designs before committing to more luxury fabrics, and the third session was for the final looks and additional tailoring where needed. 

Emily smiles while wearing the muslim version of her formal dress

Emily smiles while wearing a muslim version of her dress design

Emily experiences frustration with one sleeve falling off due to a natural drop in her shoulder, but with her custom gown Zachary created an off-shoulder look. Her seatbelt got an upgrade with a ruched cover and a matching satin collar for her service dog, Venus. Mike has a hard time with the fit of suits due to being seated. His design included a shortened suit jacket and pants tailored to fit properly. The end result had Emily and Mike prepared for any formal affair.

Mike and Emily in their final looks


You can view the "Löwe" project at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design Senior Exhibition, on view now through May 11th.