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Until 2010, there was little in the way of cosmetic design for amputees, explains McCauley Wanner. At the time, she and her now business- and life-partner, Ryan Palibroda, were in the middle of completing their Masters of Industrial Design with the dream of debunking the stereotype that fashion is frivolous—and instead showing how it can be used to change lives. Seven years on, their company, Alleles, has exploded on the Instagram scene because of their made-to-measure plastic prosthetic limb covers (they’ve even been featured at an inclusive fashion showcase at the White House). We caught up with the designer duo to get the scoop on the inspiration behind their fashion-forward products, their enthusiastic brand ambassadors and how they feel about changing the way we perceive prosthetics.Q: Where do most of your orders come from? How large is the need for prosthetic limbs in B.C.?RP: We don’t really operate locally. Our studio is in Victoria—it’s a production studio, but we operate more through the online store and through Instagram and Facebook. When we first looked at starting a company, it would have been difficult to make a go of it, even if we were in New York or any major city. We really had to work online. We’re a really tiny global company.MW: In Victoria we’ve sold two to the same person, but he’s actually from Barcelona. Alleles ambassador wearing Nouveau cover. (Photo: Alleles.)Q: Who models your work on Instagram? MW: We have a few ambassadors that we’ve worked with from the very beginning, so we’ll do photoshoots with them. But because of Instagram, and because of how we did the styling with the photos that we put out, all of a sudden these other clients of ours started creating photoshoots on their own and they would just submit stuff to us. They felt inspired to showcase , to do these creative photoshoots.Q: What is the process for ordering a prosthetic cover?MW: Everyone will get a functional prosthetic leg through a clinician or their doctor—we just make the covers that go on top. But it is custom-made so once an order comes in we will make it for their measurements and then we’ll ship it within a week.RP: We try to make it as easy as possible for people, almost like ordering shoes.
READ MOREHow a Team of SFU Researches Aims to Change the Future of Prostheses
Alleles ambassador wearing Apollo cover. (Photo: Alleles.) Alleles ambassador wearing Racer cover. (Photo: Alleles.)Q: You have a ton of styles to choose from—is there a popular design that a lot of people ask for?MW: It seems like things go in waves. If we post a picture of someone wearing the Apollo, then the next week we’ll sell a bunch of Apollos. People tend to buy what they see so depending on what people are buying and what people are posting, that also plays into it.RP: We get requests for custom ones all the time, but it’s just so much work. And they have an eight- or nine-month waiting list. I feel like people are actually more excited about the ready-to-wear stuff; they’re excited to see something they really like and to be able to buy it and get it really quickly.Q: Where do you get the inspirations for your designs? RP: It’s kind of interesting because McCauley and I we are very different from each other. I like to do a little bit more experimental stuff with digital design.MW: Yeah, and I do much more trend-spotting. I’ll see what types of patterns are popular—either in interiors or on the runway—and see what kind of colours are and I tend to design more around that. Usually when we release a collection the stuff that I come up with sells right away, it’s more trendy. All of the stuff Ryan designs, it won’t sell but then all of a sudden — it’s almost like it’s ahead of it’s time. Alleles ambassador wearing the Glide cover. (Photo: Eric Chu.) Alleles ambassador wearing the Nouveau cover. (Photo: Alleles.)Q: What do you hope people take away from your designs?MW: I think the biggest thing that we wanted to do was create something fun for our clients and something that allows them to have a shopping experience like everyone else. A lot of times with medical devices it’s very clinical. It’s a necessity. Amputees spend a lot of time in clinics, a lot of time at the doctor making appointments and we wanted to give them something that was fun where they didn’t have to do that. I guess the main thing is the ease of self-expression, where people are able to match their medical device with the rest of their wardrobe. What ends up happening is complete strangers then view a medical device differently: they don’t look at the device which is usually stigmatized with something negative. The way strangers look at these devices, it’s more empowering and it’s less about what happened to someone and more about their personal style. That’s been a huge shift, not just for the individual, but for people that don’t even wear prosthetics.