Like most people, Linda Dugan didn’t know much about adaptive clothing until a health episode in her family forced the issue upon her. When her beloved nana had a stroke she was rendered incapable of dressing herself and Linda’s family struggled to find her comfortable clothes that were easy to manoeuvre in and out of.
“My nana suddenly changed from completely independent to requiring high care,” Linda, 66, tells Starts at 60. “She became very rigid and any movement caused a lot of pain.”
Getting dressed each morning caused her nana immense pain, she recalled. That’s when Linda’s family came to the realisation that something had to be done. But with little help or useful advice from medical staff, Linda’s family turned to her to solve the problem.
“The family said to me, ‘Well Linda, you deal with clothing, you’ll know what to do’.”
Linda was working as a fashion designer for Myer at the time, and although she didn’t have any experience designing adaptive wear it didn’t stop her from trying. Applying the skills she learned as a swimwear and weekend wear designer, Linda managed to create her very first nightie – one that would allow her nana to dress with the dignity and ease she deserved.
Creating that nightie wasn’t all smooth sailing and Linda says it took a few attempts to get it right. Little did she know that all that hard work would not only change her nana’s life, but the lives of others who were similarly affected.
“The nurse caring for my nana said it was the easiest nightie she’d ever dressed a resident in, and asked if I could make more for my nana’s new neighbours, who were also in high care,” she recalls.
After more people heard about her nightie design, Linda decided to create a whole line of adaptive clothing, including dresses, blouses and pants for women, and shirts and pants for men.
It didn’t take long before her efforts took over her home dining table, then a spare bedroom, before she moved the operation to an office space. Now, more than 20 years later Linda runs the very successful adaptive clothing business Petal Back Clothing out of a large warehouse in Dandenong, Victoria.
Linda prides herself on creating stylish pieces that are both comfortable and dignified.
“I’ve heard [stories] of people being dressed in extra large t-shirts because the family didn’t know what to do, and that’s just so undignified,” she says.
The most unique and important factor in Linda’s pieces, whether it be a blouse or a dress, is that they open from the back and slide up the arms first before slipping over the head. Pants are similarly easy to slip into and slide up the legs before tying up at the back.
The designs mean that people don’t have to raise their arms or lift their legs when dressing, eliminating the need for painful movements that often plague those living with restricted mobility. The soft cotton-knit pieces also reduce the risk of experiencing skin tears and bruising while dressing, and makes assisted dressing easier, which Linda says is important if a loved one is still living at home.
“People like my nana just get really agitated with someone touching them, so that dressing process really needs to go quickly,” she explains.
Asked what it’s like to create such an innovative clothing brand, Linda says she’s delighted to find something she’s so passionate about later in life. The fact that she can help other people like her nana and make their lives a little easier is just the icing on the cake.
“Just yesterday, a daughter of a lady in high care rang me and said, ‘Linda, I wish I’d known about you a decade ago’.”
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