By British Council in Azerbaijan

21 September 2020 - 12:06

kekalove adaptive
I am working to transform our fashion brand into an international advocate for adaptive design and disability inclusion.

Mahammad Kekalov, founder of Kekalove Adaptive Fashion, and 2020 Big Idea Challenge Grand Champion, shares his story about how he started designing adaptive clothing for persons with mixed abilities.

Kekalove is an adaptive fashion collective that has been working with persons with disabilities since 2019. Kekalove designs and produces clothing for persons with different abilities, asking questions like "How does someone in a wheelchair put on a pair of pants?" or "How does someone with scoliosis wear shirts?" Mahammad, together with his team, then designs the answers he finds into easy-to-wear clothing that can fit everyone. Mahammad is an undergraduate student at the Azerbaijan State University of Economics.

Taking action

As a family member of a disabled person in Azerbaijan, I have been informed about the challenges that the disabled community faces long before I started my business. There's a lot to tackle about this - from education to healthcare, to infrastructure. In every facet of our life, some kind of ableism is prevalent. I felt the responsibility to take action about this issue - disability inclusion and adaptive design are very important for me, my loved ones, and the whole disabled community.

That's the reason why I started Kekalove, my adaptive fashion brand that designs adaptive clothing for the disabled persons. As I started working on this idea and sharing it with my friends, I found out that this problem is not limited to Azerbaijan - but also prevalent in developed countries like the UK, and the US and Australia. There was a huge room for improvement in this industry, and this improvement would have a significant impact on people's lives. I firmly believe in the idea's impact and positive social outcomes.

My idea came into being after observing my disabled grandmother for years - and after long research, I realised that we are not alone.

Right now we are working on a very exciting project that will share our work with more people. We are launching a digital storytelling campaign that will fight misconceptions, ableism, and discrimination based on ability. Kekalove is also preparing our first line of fully adaptive clothing. This campaign will end with a Disability Fashion Day. In the meantime, with the mentorship support from the Creative Spark programme, we are launching our online store and will be able to sell original adaptive clothing online. I'm very excited about these plans and I hope to deliver very good results, and more importantly, have a huge impact in our community and in the world.

The video above is a showcase of Kekalove's joint production with DanceAbility Azerbaijan, a contemporary dance company which provides dance classes for people with mixed abilities, and ARTIM, a contemporary arts organisation. The audio is Mahammad's very own 2020 Creative Spark Big Idea Challenge video pitch.

How we work together

Right now we are a team of five people - and my work wouldn't be complete without them. I am managing the business development side of our operations, while two of my colleagues Rashida Ali and Sabina Sahib are working as fashion designers creating adaptive clothing every day. We rely a lot on the persons with disabilities in Azerbaijan who send us their feedback at every step of the design process. Adaptive design needs to be functional and useful, and we can only be sure of this if we talk to our end users.

Our fashion designers don't only design fabulous pieces of clothing that look great, but are also doing engineering work that makes our clothing actually work. I would also like to credit Mahammadli Rzayev, our team's IT support, and Turan Jabbarli, our sales manager. We have a productive and successful team, and I believe that is because we all share the same vision for Kekalove and we all believe so deeply in our mission to make adaptive clothing accessible and affordable for every Azerbaijani.

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