Aussie adaptive fashion brand secures historic deal with Walmart

Aussie adaptive fashion brand secures historic deal with Walmart

Posted by Marketing Team on

Australian adaptive fashion brand, The Shapes United, has made history — landing a deal with Walmart to become the first Australian adaptive fashion label of its kind to be sold through the US retail giant. 

Founder and disability advocate Penny Weber described the partnership as “a dream come true.” 

“To have the world’s leading retailer acknowledge adaptive clothing and see the value in it… demonstrates that accessibility is mainstream,” she said.

Weber was involved in a car accident more than a decade ago that left her with serious mobility issues. As she searched for suitable clothing, there was “very literally no options out there,” she told Women’s Agenda. “Well, that’s not entirely correct, there were clothes that would have been functional and in the era for my grandma, but nothing for me,” she said.  

At the time, Weber was living in a share house in inner Melbourne, working in the creative arts. Wearing a “tricked out hospital gown” she said, was not her personal choice. 

“It’s a different situation to the old, ‘I have nothing to wear’ conundrum. I was thirty-two and I literally had nothing to wear. I couldn’t dress myself, and I knew this was the reality for many others. I was surprised there was nothing available,” she said.

Creating her business involved many steps — including her participation in a Remarkable startup accelerator in 2021, a division of Cerebral Palsy Alliance, where Weber discovered a need in the market for a diverse range of clothing options that were more inclusively designed. 

From there, the seeds of The Shapes United was born. The brand now offers fashionable, inclusive clothes for people with a range of mobility issues —  from those living with a disability or mobility impairments to sensory requirements. 

“In Australia, our stores should represent the people of our community and provide solutions for everybody,” Weber said.

In Australia, 1 in 5 people live with a disability — a “large cohort” Weber said is “being under-serviced.”

The Shapes United range is currently sold here through sustainability focused platforms including Better that and Hello Good World, some assistive technology sites such as TopCat Healthcare and Intercare and The Iconic in Australia.  

Weber said the goal is to bring her products to the mainstream and have them available where they are easily accessible such as the local department store. 

It’s been a long journey to get her adaptive fashion range up and running— not without some challenges. Weber told Women’s Agenda that when she first started, market awareness was her top priority. There were very few, if any, direct competitors within Australia. 

“The goal is for the products to be helpful to a demographic large enough to do a production run, with a similar enough functional requirement with a similar sense of fashion,” Weber explained. 

She started with clothing ‘basics’ or everyday clothing since it gave her company a good overview of usability without too much emphasis on personal fashion choices. 

“A successful product for us is for it to be the wearer’s personal secret,” she added. 

“That the clothes represent the person, fulfil their functional need but also allow the wearer the choice as to whether to disclose the functionality of the clothes. To the untrained eye, the clothes look like anything else off the rack. This sits us in between standard buying categories.”

Weber completed a double masters course in business management and travelled to a number of countries to learn more about international trade. She also visited textiles factories along the way — “It was an excellent way to be introduced to the various regulations around international trade, which have obviously helped with setting up the American entities for this launch,” she said. 

Weber also used her background in management roles within the entertainment industries to help her create The Shapes United.

“I was quite across fashion trends and how the creative industries interplayed and cross pollinated,” she said. “Which is obviously a skill that is still very relevant to the current industry.”

Weber believes that her brand’s new collaboration with Walmart is a testament to the swift change in public perception about the category of clothing for disabled or physically impaired individuals. 

“It is a very exciting time,” she said. “The category has gone from strength to strength in the last couple of years. It has been quite the journey.” 

This year, the brand was recognised with the Australia Post Local Business Hero Award 2023.

The Shapes United range will officially launched on Walmart online on National Disability Independence Day, July 26 —  the national day for Independence and pride in your identity. 

WORDS BY Jessie Tu

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