Autism mom Lauren Thierry, a former CNN Financial News anchor and producer of the documentary "Autism Every Day," recently founded Independence Day Clothing —a line of cute, preppy clothes that can be worn forwards, backwards, inside, and out—to promote both dressing independence and safety. Her clothes caught my eye recently as I was shopping for Liam, my non-verbal 7-year-old with autism, and I chatted with her via email to learn more about her son (also named Liam, a non-verbal 17-year-old with autism), her inspiration, and her vision for her amazing line.
What was the catalyst for Independence Day Clothing?
It started when Liam came out of the men's room at a Mets game with his jeans half off. That was the tipping point for me: at 13-years old, after years of occupational therapy and "dressing lessons," Liam still could not zip and button his fly. Everyone was staring. One passerby called Liam a "perv." Another called me a "perv" when I bent down to help him. People are just uninformed, but it did make me vow that Liam would never lose his dignity—let alone his pants—ever again.
What is the Independence Day line like? What features does it have that will help kids with special needs?
Independence Day Clothing features mid-to-high-end, preppy-to-trendy clothing for tweens/teens/young adults with special needs. We launched 10 months ago and the response has been so positive that we are now expanding to kiddie sizes as well as XL sizes. We manufacture and distribute "adaptive clothing" that is the unprecedented fashion equivalent to mainstream on-trend lines.
Independence Day's "hidden helpers" make these clothes uniquely accessible, socially appealing, and provides for added safety with GPS and other monitoring enablements.
You include GPS chips with all your clothes; tell me more about that...
The tragic disappearance and death of autistic teen Avonte Oquendo in Queens brought the very real issue of wandering into the national spotlight. As an autism mom, no one had to tell me that wandering is an urgent issue. So I designed a clothing line which has the ability to hide a GPS tracker comfortably and safely in the clothing. Independence Day Clothing, featuring discreetly embedded GPS trackers in our line of pullovers, leggings, tunics and pants, puts parents back in charge. You can track your loved one at any time on your computer or smartphone. Not even the bus driver, the teacher, or even the child — needs to know it's there.
Trackers worn as pendants or on wrists are highly visible, attract unwanted attention, and are usually the first thing removed and tossed by predators. They can also be irritating or embarrassing to wear.
But Independence Day Clothing's hidden GPS trackers blend right in to its preppy/trendy fashions. No one can see it and no one can feel that it's there — not even your kid. You can track your child from your computer or smartphone. Independence Clothing is giving away free GPS tracking devices with every order during our launch phase.
What sorts of success are you having so far and what feedback are you getting?
Success is measured for us in two ways: Sales, of course. But our success has also been measured, for me, at least, in a deeply personal way: Thousands of emails and letters from parents, caregivers, occupational therapists, special education teachers, doctors, even, who say, thanks for thinking of these individuals who are so often ignored by the major retailers and designers.
Our success will also be measured—I hope—in saving a life.
Expansion—but not too quickly. I keep having to remind myself: Ralph Lauren started with a tie. One tie. The Polo shirts came a lot later. But there are so many people crying out for the next thing: the underwear, the socks, and the bathing suits. They are all designed. It's just a question of when we have an investor give us the green light to forge ahead!
Anything else you'd like to share?
I was just feted at lovely party in a lovely suburban hotel, where the emcee called my clothing line, Independence Day, "Revolutionary!"
As a former media person, I'm used to hyperbole. I know they have to have a hook, an angle. But I admit this made me blush and, well, made the journalist in me pine for accuracy. What I did was not revolutionary. It was simply something that had to be done.
I took a mainstream rugby shirt and tweaked it just a bit, so that my son with autism could wear it easily, and softly folded a GPS into the fabric. That wasn't a revolution. It was however, the start of a 14-piece clothing collection for those with disabilities. And it did start a "thought revolution" that maybe those with cognitive impairments, or physical handicaps, could—and should—get dressed independently and look just like everyone else and be safe and accounted for.
Jamie Pacton lives near Lake Michigan where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons, Liam and Eliot. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter @jamiepacton
Images provided by Lauren Thierry