In 2006, Stephanie Thomas spotted a trendy trench coat for dogs at a Target in Virginia Beach – but noticed that there were far fewer options for people with disabilities.
“That irritated me a little bit,” she tells PEOPLE. “There’s only one store in America that sells clothes specifically for disabled people, but they are the biggest minority in the country.”
Thomas, 46, has devoted over 20 years of her life to making the process of finding disability-friendly clothing a little bit easier. The Los Angeles-based “disability fashion stylist” carefully chooses clothes, shoes and accessories to be featured on her website, cur8able, in hopes of “curing fashion woes,” says.
Thomas’ congenital disabilities on her right hand and feet were what initially drew her attention to the major lack of fashionable options available to and appropriate for people with disabilities.
“I always had this nagging feeling that I could never let go of,” Thomas says. The feeling inspired her to develop a “disability styling system,” or DSS, in 2004. The system helps to classify disability-friendly clothing, determined by the three main principles of accessibility, medical functionality and stylishness.
To raise awareness of the limited clothing options for those with physical disabilities, Thomas, who was working at a Norfolk, Virginia, radio station at the time, wore only pajamas for an entire year and discussed the issue on air every day. After the “PJ deejay” campaign, she earned a graduate degree in fashion journalism and launched cur8able.
The site features a list of brands that align with the DSS, as well as a look book of women and men with physical disabilities wearing clothes from these labels. For example, Paralympian Katy Sullivan and actor Michael D’Amore modeled outfits from designer MagnaReady, which sells professional pieces that use patented magnetic closures instead of buttons so they are easier to put on. American Horror Story star Jamie Brewer – who became the first model with Down syndrome to walk a runway during New York Fashion Week this year – was also photographed in MagnaReady for the look book.
Thomas hopes her curation of accessible clothing will raise awareness and help to expand the market for disability-friendly clothing.
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“The goal of cur8able is to create images that inspire and empower,” she says, adding that she’s happy to serve as a “standards-bearer” who inspires designers to push boundaries and be more creative.
“You have to keep in mind what you would want your closet and your life to look like if something were to happen to you,” she says. “That’s what motivates me.”