Heidi McKenzie Makes Fashion Waves With Wheelchair Fashion

Heidi McKenzie is creating fashion-forward clothing for people in wheelchairs.

Heidi McKenzie launched a Kickstarter campaign for Wheelchair Fashion in order to feature her ground-breaking, made-in-America jeans.

McKenzie’s jeans are made specifically for people who are in wheelchairs. The jeans are just as fashionable as any conventional jeans, but they come with certain adaptations that make them incredibly comfortable for people in chairs.

We wanted to find out more about McKenzie’s creation (and her soon-to-be-ending Kickstarter campaign — it’s over on August 29), so, we interviewed her about her passion for fashion, her designs, and what she plans to do in the future.

EcoSalon: Have you always been interested and inspired by fashion?

Heidi McKenzie: Yes, I have always had an interest in fashion. My aunt and I even designed my dress for my senior prom. Before my car accident, I was going to college for fashion merchandising and wanted to have a retail store.

ES: Tell us about what inspired you to start your own clothing line? Who has helped you along the way?

HM: Fashion has been a big influence in my life for as long as I can remember. After the accident that made me a paraplegic, I became involved in organizations that support other disabled people. For the first time, the ‘Miss Wheelchair Kentucky’ and ‘Miss Wheelchair America’ pageants gave me the opportunity to get to know many other people like me. In that, I realized that finding fashionable functional clothing was nearly impossible for all of us. I saw the opportunity to help the disabled community, as well as making my dreams of designing clothing possible.

ES: How did you think up the name of the company (Alter UR Ego) and what does it mean to you?

HM: I want those with disabilities to be able to express their “alter-ego” through fashion in hopes of breaking down social barriers and giving people the confidence they always want to feel.

Heidi McKenzie's jeans

ES: Tell us about the jeans you’re making — how did you design them and what are they made of?

HM: Mens and womens adaptable jeans for those in wheelchairs. Being in a wheelchair, I know first hand what grievances we have with regular clothing. I used that experience to design jeans with features to make us more comfortable in the jeans we wear. Accessible pockets on the thighs, customized length options, high back rise, elastic waistband, straps for ease of dressing, invisible catheter opening, tummy control panel, and a faux fly to make them look like a regular pair of jeans. They are made of 89-percent cotton, 8-percent polyester, 3-percent Elastane

Heidi McKenzie's jeans

ES: How are the jeans sustainable?

HM: What makes these jeans sustainable is that they were designed for a purpose to be functional for the daily lives of someone in a wheelchair. Everyone in the value chain has been paid fair wages.

I learned the importance of sustainability from Shannon Whitehead, the founder of Factory 45, an accelerator program for startup business creating sustainable clothing lines.

ES: What’s the key to making clothing adaptable for people in wheelchairs?

HM: The key to designing adaptable clothing is that it’s for a seated body. Keeping in mind that it’s comfortable and the features are functional. More importantly, considering the risk of causing sores. For example, not having butt pockets because it’s more material you are sitting on and making it more of a risk of a pressure sore.

ES: Why was completing production in North Carolina important to you?

HM: The material is sourced and product development was done in North Carolina. When I met with Quality Apparel Plus, they believed in my mission and I knew they would be the perfect production partner. Being made in the U.S.A. and creating jobs with fair wages is important.

ES: What other types of pieces would you like to make in the future and what’s most needed in the community? Do you have any “blueprint” plans now?

HM: I want to design everything from blouses, dresses, slacks, jackets, and maybe even shoes! It’s all in the works! I believe that the wheelchair community should have adaptable clothing options that are fashionable and functional.

People in wheelchairs are used to adapting to the world around them, not the other way around. When it comes to clothing, I want to make them feel good by knowing this clothing was made with them in mind!

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Image from Wheelchair Fashion’s Kickstarter

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.