Professor Fashions Unique Coat for Pioneering Jefferson Stroke Patient
Anne Hand can’t help but laugh when she hears people think of fashion designers as merely “seamstresses.”
“All of our students are problem-solvers,” stresses the fashion design professor. “That’s what we do.”
Hand points to Design X, Jefferson’s signature fall fashion show, as a perfect example. The event pushes students to develop new and often unusual solutions to answer the basic design problem of covering the body. Here, students turn household items like spoons, Q-tips, paper plates, water bottles and pasta into fantastical fashion.
With the emphasis the fashion design program places on problem-solving—along with its dedication to “fashion for all”—it shouldn’t be a surprise that Hand jumped at the opportunity to help one person.
Video by 7 Wonders Cinema / Multimedia editor: Carly Williams
In January 2019, 39-year-old Aaron Ulland suffered a stroke and required two months of intensive rehab to swallow, speak and walk short distances with a cane. However, he lost his ability to work and much of his independence.
Two years later, Ulland participated in the groundbreaking Cortimo clinical trial at Jefferson. He became the first person with this common type of stroke to be implanted with brain electrodes—a brain-computer interface—that would send signals from his brain to a robotic arm brace designed to move his significantly weakened left arm. (Read the full story here.)
The innovation gave Ulland increased mobility, but the arm brace doesn’t fit under a regular winter coat. Here’s when the Jefferson research team reached out to Hand for her expertise.
She wanted to create a roomie sleeve that provided a greater range of motion. Hand also knew that a traditional zipper might be difficult to use since Ulland didn’t have full strength on his left side. But at the same time, she felt the coat must look cohesive even if she had to “Frankenstein” it together.
That’s when she tapped her decades of problem-solving skills and savvy. “I sit down and make drawings and think about it in the middle of the night,” she laughs about the brainstorming process.
All of our students are problem-solvers. That’s what we do.
–Fashion Design Professor Anne Hand
Armed with his measurements and after performing a fitting, Hand settled on a neoprene fabric for the new sleeve. Made of 90 percent polyester and 10 percent spandex for extra give, this material often is used for scuba gear. She also added some Velcro tabs so the sleeve could be adjusted. In place of a front zipper, Hand sewed on a series of magnetic snaps to keep the coat snug.
“It’s a beautiful jacket,” says Ulland’s mom Holly. “Anne did a wonderful job. It’s obvious she put a lot of time, thought and effort into it. For the cold days, it will be the perfect solution.”
Hand says she enjoyed the whole creative process and helping Ulland to stay warm this winter. In fact, she could see participating in similar projects to aid people with different abilities.
“Instead of chopping coats apart, maybe we design a coat specifically for the purpose of wearing a device like this or people with other needs,” says Hand, adding that Jefferson fashion students have shown greater interest in the product development realm as of late. “We hope to address it more and more in our program.”