I have a granddaughter who was born with Down syndrome. Her name is Maggie. As I watched her grow, I noticed that everything she wore never fit properly. The sleeves and pant legs were always way too long. She was four years old when my daughter challenged me to start a company to make clothes for people with Down syndrome.
I went home that day and thought I would just buy her something online. Well, we all know how that turned out. There was absolutely nothing available for a person with Down syndrome.
So it began! After several months of thinking how would I ever make a clothing line for these special people, I called the design school in Cleveland and asked some of their teachers for advice. They told me I needed to hire a designer and gave me the name of a young graduate. Her name is Jillian and we have been together ever since. So in 2010, Downs Designs® was incorporated.
We started with just a pair of jeans and now we have 18 styles. People with Down syndrome have a unique body shape that generally does not fit into off-the-rack clothes. They have a shorter femur which makes their legs very short, low muscle tone making it difficult to hold in their tummies. They have difficulty with fine motor skills, making buttons and zippers more challenging. The upper body has many challenges as well, but for now we’re focusing on the best pair of jeans we can make. Then our plans are to go in to black and khaki casual dress pants.
After four years of developing our pull-on, stretchy jeans, I realized there was another very large group of men who have challenges manipulating buttons and zippers. Next I began researching the boys with clothing challenges. I couldn’t believe the results I found. Just autism alone is now one out of 68 births, and 5 to 1 are boys.
With those findings, I started another line of jeans. I call them NBZ® Jeans (no button, zipperless jeans). They come in standard men and boys sizes, have a full elastic waist, no button, zipper or tags and they have the same comfort and ease in dressing as our Downs Designs® Jeans. The denim is so soft and stretchy that they are well tolerated by those with clothing sensitivities.
The ease in dressing plus the look and style of both these brands makes them loved by all who wear them. Our clothing solutions also help eliminate a unfair negative stereotype formed by individuals unaware of these clothing challenges faced by so many today!
We also just launched our “Adopt-A-Jean™ Friday” program and we will be donating a pair of our jeans every week to someone nominated by someone else. We hope that by people sharing their stories about the dressing challenges they face, we may bring more awareness to the forefront.
We are currently preparing for the start of the new school season. We will be introducing a community service project idea to donate special needs students Downs Designs® or NBZ® Jeans. We hope to bring awareness to the communities about the importance of self-esteem and independence that all of us strive to achieve. The community service project idea would be a worthy experience for all involved. The students would find ways to raise money, so the jeans can be donated to the special needs students, in their own school districts, their community or even plan to donate to wounded or disabled veterans.
Karen Bowersox is the mother of two daughters and twelve grandchildren, one with Down syndrome. She is married to Dr. Harold Bowersox and they just reached their 25th wedding anniversary.
Karen started her first business in 1986 by creating a housekeeping service called Kare-N-Kleen. Her cleaning company grew to maintain over 250 homes with a staff of 25 women and a fleet of company cars. At that time, there were no cleaning companies like this and now they are everywhere. Karen sold the business after twelve years and stayed home to watch many of her grandchildren be born. When her husband decided he wanted to go into private practice, she set up his medical practice and ran that for ten years. Five years ago, Karen started a clothing line for people with Down syndrome and last year she started her second clothing line called NBZ Jeans. She recently combined both businesses into a non-profit (pending) corporation called Downs Designs Dreams.
This article was featured in Issue 39 – Working Together to Communicate Better