When a car accident left Heidi McKenzie a T-4 paraplegic at the age of 21, she put her fashion dreams on hold.
“I was going to college for fashion merchandising and wanted to become a buyer and travel and all that fun stuff; it was something that I was passionate about,” McKenzie, now 29, told FoxNews.com. “And then I was in my car accident and kind of felt like maybe the fashion industry wasn’t the right path to take right then.”
McKenzie, who is unable to feel anything from the chest down and is confined to a wheelchair, went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in small business management before competing in, and being crowned, Miss Wheelchair Kentucky 2012.
“I went on to compete in Wheelchair Miss America and I didn’t win, but it was the first time I had been in the room with 20-something other girls in wheelchairs and realized, ‘We should be able to have just as many clothing options as everyone else and be included,’” McKenzie, who lives in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, said.
Mainstream clothing -- particularly pants -- are problematic for people seated in a wheelchair, as the length and the cut can prove a difficult fit. They also often aren’t able to use the front or back pockets, making many styles impractical. Even going to the bathroom can be a challenge without catheter-friendly designs. With limited options, people are often left to choose baggy or unflattering sweatpants rather than fashion-forward styles.
McKenzie’s passion for trendy clothing was reignited, and she set off to create a pair of practical, wheelchair-friendly jeans. She teamed up with designer Kristin Alexandra Tidwell and together they produced the first pair of Alter Ur Ego blue jeans. They are currently raising money through a Kickstarter to help get the project off the ground.
“[The jeans] have pockets that are located on the thighs for easy access, then I have a catheter opening in hopes that it will help women mostly, with [catheterizing]and then there is a high-back waistline that covers everything when you bend over, then the back waistband is elastic also, so it makes it easier to slide on,” McKenzie said. The jeans also have a “tummy-control panel, because we can’t suck in our gut,” she said, along with straps on either side of the waistband to help with the dressing process.
McKenzie plans to have the jeans customizable for length options to accommodate both tall and short wearers, and both men and women. She plans to keep the price under $90 as patients often already face steep medical costs.
So far, she said the feedback she has received from family, friends and strangers has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve had a few friends try them on, and then I’ve had a lot of people contact me via the Kickstarter about how it’s great to have a functional pair of jeans because a lot of them haven’t worn jeans in so long because they haven’t found a pair to fit them the way they need to,” McKenzie said.
If the jeans prove to be a success, McKenzie has dreams of launching an entire clothing line to include shirts, jackets other pants and possibly shoes. She has a fundraising goal of $20,000 with an August 29 deadline.