Former Tennessee swimmer launches fashion label
The experience that changed everything for Mary Cayten Brakefields was a conversation she had with two male adaptive athletes in Ecuador during a VOLeaders trip.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - For millions of people, getting dressed or undressed is not a complex task. However, for thousands of others, it can seem like an impossible challenge.
That’s an issue one former Vol is tackling.
This adaptive fashion line has been years in the making for Mary Cayten Brakefields.
“So there are some special aspects in our clothes that make them more accessible,” said Brakefields as she describes her first clothing line. “First, our fabrics are all stretchy. so they’ve got a great stretch and return in them. they’re super soft and comfortable. and all of the pockets on our skirts, they have internal, external access and so you can thread any of your devices through there. then they have a clip strip that you can attach to your device to keep it nice and secure inside of your pocket.”
The former Tennessee Vol has always dreamt of creating a fashion label with her mom, Stephanie. Though it wasn’t until her time at UT, that she discovered in what industry.
“Being at UT was the absolute best. and being on the swim team was absolutely incredible. Being a VOLeader was the most incredible experience I could have possibly imagined,” said Brakefields.
The experience that changed everything for Brakefields was a conversation she had with two male adaptive athletes in Ecuador during a VOLeaders trip.
“We were having lunch and they started telling me about how frustrating it was trying to get dressed in the morning. so their experience really was eye-opening wow, there is so much missing from the fashion industry and there are so many people that are not being served well by the industry. and so maybe we can change that,” said Brakefields.
Her mission became increasingly personal her sophomore year when Brakefields was diagnosed with a genetic mutation.
One day after swim training, she passed out and convulsed on the floor of the locker room. An array of ailments would follow including, concussions, and infections. For two years she was in and out of the hospital. Eventually, doctors diagnosed her with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and dysautonomia.
This diagnosis caused her to frequently faint and endure convulsions. She reveals that it also attacks her collagen which directly impacts all of her bodily functions and day-to-day life. It also interrupted her swimming career with the Vols.
But she didn’t let this deter her from her love of fashion and serving those with disabilities.
“I was going through all of these medical experiences at the same time that I was learning and continually being reminded of you’re so much more than your sport, you know, you have something to offer.”
In addition to her clothing line, a big part of her label is jewelry and its easy functionality.
“We’ve got our different head options here. so we’ve got our traditional post that is the coral and then we have our little rectangle provides so that is great for if you have limited mobility or if you have a caregiver is putting on your earrings for you so much easier than trying to get the little post into a little hole so we’re trying to make accessible accessories as much as possible.”
During her time with VOLeaders they worked with people with disabilities and there she learned the power of representation.
“It’s so important,” said Brakefields. “And just representation and different bodies and different people being shown in an industry that has historically been less representative of a lot of people. it just has so much potential for good and it’s just really exciting. and so yeah, I’m just so excited to see where the industry is going and we’re excited to help maybe shape it a little bit.”
The Brakefields are set to launch their ability inclusive clothing label by the end of the month.
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