Christiano Krosh knows all about being an outsider.
The 30-year-old has lived all his life in Rio de Janeiro’s low-income favela neighborhoods, most recently in Cidade de Deus, or City of God. He grew up poor, and still struggles, eking out a living from the tiny studio adjoined to his house.
So, when Krosh got into designing clothes, he had a clear mission.
“I always had this concept that in fashion you should be useful instead of useless,” he said, employing a natty Portuguese phrase, “util e nao futil.”
“So I told my professor, ‘I’m going to make fashion for people with physical disabilities, because there’s nothing like that on the market.’”
Krosh couldn’t believe there wasn’t a store where Brazilians with physical disabilities could find clothes tailor-made for them. So, while in college studying fashion design, he spent some time researching and talking to people with disabilities about the challenges they faced in buying clothes.
Then he set out to create a line of women’s clothing that makes life easier for them and their families.
The more than 4,000 Paralympic athletes competing in Rio won’t find his clothing in stores just yet. Krosh advertises on Facebook, but he’s still trying to break into the mainstream fashion world.
Krosh designed clothes that were easier to put on and take off for people with limited movement. He used Velcro or zippers to divide long women’s dresses into two halves that could more easily be donned. And he created clothing tailored to bodies shaped by years sitting in wheelchairs or using crutches.
He employed other design tricks too, like putting braille labels on clothes so that, for example, women with limited sight could tell if they were pulling on a blouse or a dress. And he created hidden openings where people who use prosthetic devices, like a colostomy bag, could easily access them without removing their clothes.
For Krosh, his designs are all about re-empowering people who may have lost some of their self-worth or confidence as a result of an injury or condition that left them with a disability. He said his feedback has been priceless.
“I’ve heard some really emotional stories,” he said. “Once I started to make them clothes, people said to me, ‘Christiano, you’ve given me my life back. I feel beautiful. I feel sexy. I feel desirable.’”
But Krosh flinches at the suggestion that his collection is exclusively for women with disabilities. His fashion shows feature non-disabled women alongside women in wheelchairs and on crutches. His project, which started in 2012, isn’t about creating a different line of clothes for women with disabilities, it’s about creating a collection that contains clothes for everyone.
“My brand is called Inclusive Wear,” he said. “So, a woman who doesn’t have a disability can wear it. A black woman can wear it. A plus-size woman can wear it. And a woman with disabilities can wear it.”
But right now, Krosh’s biggest problem when it comes to being inclusive is practical: He designs one-off pieces for women who contact him on social media after hearing about his project. By definition, that’s expensive, since he has to make each item from scratch and tailor it to the specific client.
That jars with Krosh’s egalitarian principles. Having grown up in poor neighborhoods, the last thing he wants to do is create an exclusive, expensive brand, he said.
So, he’s hoping at some point to partner with a larger company or organization to expand his horizons and start manufacturing his clothing line in greater numbers for more and more people. That way, anybody can get the benefit of his original designs, he said.
“It’s not just about beauty,” he said. “It’s about increasing confidence, increasing awareness, increasing your self-worth.”