Down's syndrome children get own line of clothing

May 26, 1994|By Mary Gottschalk | Mary Gottschalk,Knight-Ridder News Service

Being different isn't easy.

It's particularly not easy when you can't buy clothes that everyone else wears. Clothes like blue jeans.

While most of us take jeans for granted, Sarah Cole never could until her mother, Diane, and her aunt, Claudia Sammis, started a clothing line called eSpecials for people with Down's syndrome.

"Up until they reach about a size 6X, children with Down's syndrome can wear off-the-rack clothing, but then things change," says Ms. Sammis, who never thought about how clothing fit her niece until a shopping trip four years ago.

"We went to a darling, expensive children's shop and nothing fit," Ms. Sammis says. "It was enormously frustrating. We tried different styles of dresses and different manufacturers and they all drooped off the shoulders, were way too long and the arms of the dresses were really long. A person with Down's syndrome has very short arms and legs in proportion to the body trunk.

"It wasn't an issue of money. I would have spent anything to find her clothes . . . but there was not one dress in that store that would fit," she says.

Undaunted, Ms. Sammis started calling clothing manufacturers and pattern companies to ask about special clothes.

"Everyone was very nice, but they all said, 'It's too small of a market for us to deal with,' " Ms. Sammis recalls.

Estimates on the number of people with Down's syndrome in the United States vary, but she says the most common figures are between 250,000 and 300,000.

Finally, Ms. Sammis decided to deal with it herself, in partnership with her sister-in-law, Diane Cole.

"We talked to a lot of parents and did focus groups on clothing and fit problems, likes and dislikes about fabric, and here we are today," says Ms. Sammis.

The pair took extensive figure measurements for three years before starting their company.

"Pants seem to be the one thing you can't alter. You can take up a shirt cuff, but when you're talking about home sewing on a pair of jeans, it's a different issue.

"It's part of full inclusion," she says. "People with Down's syndrome are high-functioning. They're aware of their clothing and they want to look like the rest of the gang. They want to look like they're wearing Levi jeans."

For that reason, they decided to launch eSpecials with basic jeans, turning to a pattern maker who had worked for Levi Strauss for guidance. Production is done in the Bay Area and eSpecials is headquartered in Larkspur, Calif., where Ms. Sammis lives.

"Our jeans fit just like the major brands, but the proportions are different," she says. "They're shorter from the waist to the crotch, shorter in the inseam; they're wider at the waist, have a Velcro closure with a fake snap in front and a big pull on the zipper because the fine motor skills of people with Down's syndrome aren't always good."

The initial eSpecials jeans are washed, 100 percent cotton with a waist of 22 to 42 inches and an inseam up to 29 inches. They sell for $30 a pair, plus $4.50 for shipping. (For a free color brochure and price list, call (415) 924-7960 or write to eSpecials, P.O. Box 1177, Larkspur, Calif. 94977.)

Ms. Sammis says they are working on expanding the line to include shorts and a dressier pant for fall and additional styles in the future.

As for Sarah, who becomes a teen-ager in July, her aunt says, "She hadn't had a pair of jeans until these came along. She loves them and is our best model. We make sure she has an assortment of whatever we're trying."

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