This World Autism Acceptance Week (Monday, March 27 to Sunday 2 April), Teesside University is celebrating the work of an inspiring student who is making a difference through her new fashion collection.
Autism is a complex developmental condition which can impact communication and interaction, and there are approximately 700,000 autistic children and adults in the UK according to the National Autistic Society.
Abigayle Welcome, who is in the final year of the BA (Hons) Fashion course at Teesside University, has autism, and she is aiming to break down barriers, challenge misconceptions and raise awareness.
She is drawing on her knowledge and first-hand experiences to produce a fashion collection designed and developed specifically for people with autism as part of her studies.
Abigayle, 23, from Skelton, said: “The inspiration behind my collection is autism and spreading awareness and acceptance of it.
“I have autism myself, and I know that it’s been a very big struggle for my whole life. Personally, I think there’s quite a big stigma around autism. It needs to be out there and explained a little bit more so people can see what it’s really like.
“I thought it would be nice to spread awareness through fashion. I’m showing people that autism is actually a very beautiful thing. I’ve met so many people who have autism and they’re just the most beautiful, unique people I’ve ever met in my life.”
The centrepiece of the collection is a multicoloured, multitextured, patchwork garment inspired by popular children’s book series Elmer the Patchwork Elephant. The books promote acceptance, which is what Abigayle is capturing in her clothing.
She added: “Reading Elmer, I realised how much it shows the importance of acceptance and embracing people who are different, and that’s why I chose to make it my centrepiece. It shows that it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to be unique and vibrant. You are who you are.”
Another interesting piece in the collection is a purple dress with detachable elements which can be used to help people who are non-verbal or usually find it difficult to express emotions to demonstrate how they are feeling.
The collection will be exhibited at Teesside University’s Fashion Show, which is set to take place in May.
The garments will be modelled by people with autism on the runway, as well as in a fashion photoshoot held at Senses Wellbeing Centre in Skelton, which is home to a multi-sensory space.
Abigayle explained that it was important for her to use models with autism to improve representation and to see how real people interact with the clothes.
Clare Fletcher, Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) for Teesside University’s School of Arts & Creative Industries, said: “Abigayle is to be commended for her research and work into her fashion practice, which is made even more special by the fact that it has been produced with such an important and personal topic at its heart.
“Our School ethos is all about helping our students find their creative voices and this is a great example.”
After graduating, Abigayle plans to develop a small fashion business through which she will continue to raise awareness of autism.