Brenda Wilton learned about shame at a young age.
When she was in high school, Wilton was a skilled gymnast and a popular cheerleader who had just made the varsity track team when a diagnosis of scoliosis upended her world.
The condition, which causes a sideways curvature of the spine, meant that Wilton needed to wear a corrective back brace — and she had to wear it all day long. From ninth grade through the end of high school, Wilton spent 23 hours a day inside a bulky metal contraption that included a metal bar jutting under her chin, around her head and all down her spine. She couldn’t wear normal clothes. She felt embarrassed, ridiculed, a freak.
Or at best, she felt invisible.
“More importantly, I learned about shame — the shame that comes from being treated differently because of how I looked,” Wilton said.
That formative experience as a teen is the driving force behind her startup, Authored Apparel. The Greenville-based adaptive clothing company was just selected as a participant in the Techstars Future of Longevity accelerators in partnership with Pivotal ventures, an investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates.
The accelerator, which aims to empower startups that offer innovative caregiving solutions for aging adults, selected Authored among nine other startups. Authored designs thoughtfully engineered clothing options with discreet openings that adapt to different body needs and limitations. With almost-invisible zippers and stylish designs, the clothes mimic the appearance of Brooks Brothers apparel while allowing for wearers to easily dress and undress with dignity.
“We want to empower them to keep involved actively in their living and routines, which will improve their sense of self-worth and dignity, while also improving relationships between the caregiver and the one receiving care,” Wilson said.
Speaking from the experience of caring for her aging father and mother-in-law, Wilton said she wanted to eliminate the stigma of “old people clothes” while also making life easier for the caregivers, especially family members.
According to data from 2011, which was the most recent year the World Health Organization conducted a comprehensive study on aging needs, there are currently 75 million people aged 15 or older in the United States who have some type of a dressing challenge due to advanced age or a disability. That need has translated to a $48 billion market for adaptive clothing in 2019, with that number expected to rise to $54 billion by 2023, according to Wilton.
Wiltons said with most caregivers being family members, seeing a loved one struggling to put on clothes can be heartbreaking. She’s heard countless stores of elderly or disable people locking themselves away from the world simply because they couldn’t dress as they normally would.
“No one wants to wear clothing that doesn’t look and feel not only comfortable, but appealing,” Wilton said. “Our mission is to provide exactly that.”