When Maura Horton’s husband, former college football coach Don Horton, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 48, she tried to buy clothing that would make it easier for him to dress himself, but she found few things that fit. That’s when she decided to make her own designs, and now, she’s partnering with major retailers for North American distribution.
Ten years ago, the main images of adaptive clothing that Horton found only targeted elderly men and women who were hunched over walkers and in wheelchairs. They looked nothing like her athletic husband, who was diagnosed with the tremor-causing degenerative disorder about 10 years earlier than the average patient.
The clothing was also too casual and not appropriate for a professional setting like her husband’s job. Not to mention, she found shirts that used Velcro, which can prove difficult to put together and tear apart for people suffering from diseases like Parkinson’s and arthritis.
Horton, of Raleigh, N.C., decided to tune-up her husband’s shirts herself by using custom-designed, machine-washable magnets in hopes of restoring his confidence and independence. The shirts look like any other traditional button-up dress shirt, but the magnets are hidden behind the non-functional button flap.
“[Getting dressed] is so important,” Maura, 46, told FoxNews.com. “The first challenge of the day is not just getting out of bed but getting dressed. [MagnaReady] restores some dignity to their demeanor.”
This summer, Horton’s patented technology, marketed under the brand MagnaReady— which launched in 2013 and is sold online— will be rolled out in stores nationwide and in Canada, through a partnership with PVH, a global apparel company that owns Tommy Hilfiger, IZOD and Calvin Klein. The shirts will be made for a yet-to-be-named PVH brand and will also be sold under the MagnaReady label at PVH brands’ retail locations.
PVH declined to comment for this piece because it was in the testing phase for the product at publication time, but it confirmed the deal to FoxNews.com.
The companies’ new relationship means the adaptive shirts will be more accessible for people like her husband, who must overcome increasingly difficult dexterity and coordination struggles daily. Horton said her husband has progressed to four of five total stages of the disease but still is ambulatory.
“Unfortunately, this is not cancer where you can hope there’s a remission or you fight for something,” Horton said. “We’re just fighting every day to maintain the level of mobility and strength from the day before, and it’s a losing battle.”
Horton said she never thought her custom shirts would evolve into the formation of a full-blown company. She had previously designed her own line of children’s clothing and sold them in high-end boutiques in Boston and New York, but when she began reaching out to groups whose audiences might benefit from the MagnaReady shirts— which were inspired by magnetic iPad covers— she learned just how wide their reach could be.
“I have stroke and Parkinson's and ALS patients who are young and active and fashionable, and when your choice is have your spouse or child dress you, or wear clothing designed for hospital or nursing home use, the choice is depressing and discouraging,” Suzanna Eller, a Seattle, Wash.-based social worker with the American Parkinson Disease Association, which has worked with MagnaReady, told FoxNews.com. “When a disease or physical limitation is taking away your abilities or sense of self, every little thing that allows you to feel whole or capable is a gift.”
In 2013, MagnaReady sold about 3,000 shirts to individuals suffering from conditions like arthritis, stroke, ALS, Parkinson’s and neuropathy, as well as injured veterans, Horton said.
Ferdinand Becker, 76, a retired facial plastic surgeon in Vero Beach, Fla., has coped with Parkinson’s for about six years. He owns 15 to 20 MagnaReady shirts, which come in various patterns and colors, and retail for around $63 to $65 apiece.
“It’s so much easier to get dressed in a hurry,” Becker, who learned about MagnaReady from a friend also suffering from Parkinson’s, FoxNews.com. “When you can’t button buttons up, it takes a long time to get your shirt on and off, and with MagnaReady you just throw them on and pop them on.”
Zulu Zakir, 63, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about five years ago, learned about MagnaReady shirts after reading a news article online.
“I used to have to rely on my wife and my daughter to button me up, so it’s given me independence,” Zakir, a CEO of a textile wholesale supply company who lives in North Brunswick, N.J, told FoxNews.com, “but I think it doesn’t stop with Parkinson’s. My daughter is young and she has a fiancé now, and he’s interested because it would be so much easier to wear a shirt [this way] anyway.”
Since its inception, MagnaReady has sold an estimated 20,000 shirts, Horton said.
“With PVH, we’ll be able to get in a better distribution channel and get the product to where it’s purchased at a more successful rate,” Horton said. “Retailers are starting to see this demo group more like the plus-size demographic was years ago.”
Ellen L. DiCicco, program director for the MAC Angels Foundation, a Larchmont, N.Y.-based organization that serves families with ALS and has also worked with MagnaReady, said she felt the company’s deal with PVH would help enhance more ALS patients’ quality of life.
“Many ALS patients become aware of the onset of the disease when their hands become clumsy, causing difficulty in the performance of usually simple everyday tasks, such as getting dressed,” DiCicco told FoxNews.com. “As the muscle cells deteriorate, patients experience stiffness, occasional jerking of the arms or legs, or twitching. MagnaReady shirts help the patient population maintain their dignity and the ability to get dressed on their own.”
This patient population includes the more than 5,600 people diagnosed with ALS in the United States each year— as many as 30,000 affected Americans at any given time, according to the ALS Association. Parkinson’s disease affects nearly 1 million Americans, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Each year, more than 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
For Don Horton, who coached football at both North Carolina State University and Boston College, the need for a specific kind of adaptive shirt arose when he didn’t expect it. Following a NC State loss against Maryland, Don got trapped in the locker room— unable to button his shirt— until one of his players, Russell Wilson, now quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, helped him do so.
“You never forget the humility when someone’s not able to do something anymore,” Maura said.
“Parkinson’s is one of those diseases that a lot of people choose to keep to themselves initially,” she added. “[Don] told his immediate boss, but we didn’t disclose it to the public or anyone outside of our family.”
In striking the deal with PVH, Horton said she hopes to reduce the stigma of disabled individuals like those who use MagnaReady shirts. She already sells MagnaReady adaptive clothing for disabled children on the website MagnaMini.com and collaborated with Runway of Dreams for a children’s line with Tommy Hilfiger that launched in February. Next, she said she wants to tap into adaptive sleepwear.
“I would just like there to be a wider acceptance … for these types of groups, and easier access for them to get mainstream clothing and quality clothing without having to give something up when they’re already giving up so much,” Horton said.