The SDGs, which are global goals adopted by United Nations member states, declare that no one shall be left behind, and persons with disabilities are no exception – creating a society that is comfortable for such persons to live in is included in the SDGs.
The need for universal design*2 is now increasing around the world as we aim to realize a society that protects the rights and dignity of all people.
Universal design refers to creating designs that can be used by anyone, regardless of their culture, language or nationality, and irrespective of their age, gender, or ability or disability. It can be applied to facilities, products and even information.*3 Because universal design can lead to new business opportunities, there is an increasing number of cases in which companies are becoming involved in universal design.
Governments and educational institutions are also starting to become involved. Ireland established a national agency for persons with disabilities and has prepared a system for the utilization of universal design on a nationwide level.*4 Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon, has created the Universal Design Lab at Portland State University.*5
Universal Design in the Fashion Industry
The concept of universal design is gradually spreading, and we now see its proactive application in many urban designs, furniture and interior decorations. We see it in fashion, too.
In 2015, models with disabilities walked the runway as models in a fashion collection event in New York.*6 Several famous luxury brands have also presented collections that incorporate universal design. Furthermore, an online shop*7 designed to make it easier for persons with disabilities to choose clothes opened in New Zealand and gathered people's attention.
Japan is a “super-aging” society, and as such, universal design is undergoing unique development. The Universal Design Forum*8 is an international event hosted by Japan. The seventh such event was held in 2019. Japan, with its great expertise, has become a presence driving such efforts in Asia.
Universal Design Resulting from Co-creation with Many People
With a desire to be of use to persons with disabilities, YKK, too, has been involved in various initiatives, including product development.
Because zippers can be difficult for persons with disabilities to use, click-TRAK®*9, released in May 2019, was developed to enable easier handling as well as a way to enjoy fashion more.
Interviews were carried out during development with people with various disabilities. They resulted in a product that has been recognized not only by people with disabilities but also professional athletes, who need to be able to zip or unzip their sportswear swiftly and easily.
Meanwhile, QuickFree®*10 was developed based on the opinions of users. It is easy for small children to zip or unzip by themselves as well as for parents to use when dressing their children. It is also a safe zipper as it has a quick release function, and the zipper pulls apart if a child's clothing gets caught on playground equipment. In FY2018, it won the FY2018 Prime Minister's Award (Grand Prize) at the Kids Design Award in Japan. It also won the Gold Prize in the Good Design Award 2018.
The fact that an item is easy for anyone to use, whether it is a person with a disability or is non-disabled, or a child or an adult, is the essence of universal design.
On the other hand, persons with disabilities have different challenges. Something that is easy for anyone to use and something that is very difficult to use can be two sides of the same coin. That is why, in the case of universal fashion, the ability to customize an item is the prerequisite. We believe that this is not limited to zippers. It is something that can only be achieved with the input of users and designers.
YKK is carrying out wide-ranging activities. For example, together with a community media*11 for persons with disabilities or intractable diseases, YKK designed clothes that utilized the click-TRAK® zipper. It was based on a comment that for physical reasons, the person could not choose to wear clothes that had zippers on them.
Recently, co-creation with users from the planning stages is becoming popular, and this includes universal design. Through partnerships that result from such co-creation, YKK is being mindful to implement the manufacturing of products that are fun and easy for many people to use, including persons with disabilities.
What is more, it was through such efforts that YKK understood that universal design does not end with a single design for a product. In fact, true universal design is that which is customized to meet the needs of various disabilities. Because of this, YKK has also begun working in recent years with clothing repair shops used by persons with disabilities to create made-to-order clothing that utilizes zippers.
The global population is forecast to reach about 10 billion people in 2100. With the population growth, there is also an increase expected in the number of people with disabilities. Because of this, the need for universal design will become even stronger. YKK would like to contribute to the spread and development of universal design related to fashion through the development of and popularization activities for products that are easy for many people to use.