Rachael Hughson-Gill hopes to “empower” women aged 18 to 25 with the condition while giving them something “that works with their everyday needs”.
As well as getting fashion design students at Coventry University involved in the project, Rachael aims to create a ‘toolkit’ that can be used by clothing companies in the future to create more empathetic and inclusive clothing designs.
Rachael, studying for her PhD at the university’s Research Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities, said: “It started as a co-design project, and the driving principle is it’s led by young women with diabetes and what they want and need. Our path has found that there isn’t much for them.”
The process began by bringing together a group of around 12 women with Type 1 diabetes to find out their daily challenges, and body image emerged as a primary issue.
“We were exploring their challenges living with and managing Type 1 diabetes. Body image was said to be something they struggled with as the need to manage the condition can lead to an increased connection, relationship and awareness of body and body image.”
“Our co-design group explored how wearable technology, bruising, and weight fluctuations can change how their bodies look and the clothes they choose to wear when they want to look, feel and be treated like everyone else.”
The next step within the process was for the group to co-design ideas for products, systems and services that could support body image.
Rachael, 25, who is originally from Glasgow but now lives and works in Coventry, says the group came up with incredible ideas, including clothes that can continuously monitor glucose levels and possibly change colour to signal any changes, wedding dresses with places to hold insulin pumps and clothes that make giving insulin injections in public easier and safer.
She said the research project is about young women being proud of who they are: “The main strand of this is to empower young women to celebrate their diabetes as a part of who they are with clothing that could reflect that. And on the flip side, allow individuals to choose when, where, how and if they show their condition knowing that body confidence and relationship with the condition is a personal journey.”
Having hosted several workshops, the next stage will see Rachael design a toolkit that fashion designers can use.
She said: “I want this to have an impact. The idea is it will be a set of recommendations and a toolkit that designers can take on board to create clothes that support body image and fit a wide range of bodies.”
“For people with Type 1 diabetes, solutions are often just given to them, but this project gave them the power to say what they want and need.”
Louise Moody, professor of Health Design and Human Factors, said: “This project – supported by our collaborator Devices for Dignity – has applied creative methods to understand and share the daily challenges of Type 1 Diabetes. Rachael and her co-design team have produced valuable insights and innovative solutions to improve understanding of how design can enhance body image and help people better manage this serious condition.”