Cover Story

Fashion and Function for O&P Patients

Today's trends focus on what makes patients unique and happy without sacrificing comfort or mobility.

For many O&P patients, a new prosthesis or orthosis is about more than function — it is now an expression of their personality as well. With advances in manufacturing and materials, new companies are popping up to fill a niche for fashion-forward patients who want to walk with confidence.

Prostheses on display

As amputees spend more time in the public eye, so do their prostheses. Starting with Oscar Pistorius, known as the “Blade Runner,” and continuing to Dancing With the Stars contestants Amy Purdy and Noah Galloway, it is becoming more common to see people with limb loss presented as capable and fashion-forward. Galloway was named the “Ultimate Men’s Health Guy” in 2014 and has since continued a career as a model. In 2014, the world was introduced to the first “bionic pop star,” Viktoria Modesta, who performed an elaborate dance in the spike leg from Alt.Limb Company. In 2014, Alex Minsky, a retired U.S. Marine corporal, was the first amputee to walk in New York Fashion Week wearing a UNYQ cover. In 2015, Rebekah Marine also walked the runway at New York Fashion Week wearing the i-limb quantum prosthesis.

It may be due to this continued positive exposure that prosthetic fashion is evolving. In the past, amputees have expressed a desire to blend in, but now many are asking for ways to stand out, according to Brooke Artesi, CPO/LPO, owner of Sunshine Prosthetics and Orthotics and an amputee for 22 years.

“People are going a little outside the box,” Artesi told O&P News. “They are not just asking for that conventional, flesh-tone shape. They are going after the more bionic look — the chrome, the shiny, the custom-painted [prosthesis].”

Image: Hilliary Benjamin; courtesy of Geauga Rehabilitation Engineering and Myomo.

Image: Hilliary Benjamin; courtesy of Geauga Rehabilitation Engineering and Myomo.

“The younger generation likes the high-tech look,” Ronnie N. Graves, BOCPO, LPO, CO, CTP, owner of Prosthetics Research Specialists, said.

Designers agreed the flesh-tone look is “out,” and patients prefer a carbon look “or not covering the leg at all,” Artesi added. “That is kind of a bigger thing now. They want it to look real, to be the same shape [as a natural limb].”

“Limb-deficient people seem more eager to show their prosthesis off rather than hide it,” Elaine Uellendahl, CP, owner of New Touch Prosthetics, agreed. “Prostheses are more frequently made with bright colors, laminated in fun fabrics and sometimes are even bedazzled.”

Patients learn about design options a few different ways — one is by seeing them when they visit their prosthetist. Artesi said when she wears an outfit that shows her prosthesis, patients often will ask if she can get something similar for them. They also see designs on a technician who works for Artesi.

More choices, more input

Patients also learn about new options online, particularly through the sharing of information on social media. This has fueled particular interest in 3-D printed prostheses and covers. Eythor Bender, chief executive officer (CEO) of UNYQ, said the internet has created a venue for amputees to learn about their options.

Eythor Bender
Eythor Bender

“Amputees in the past have not had much of a choice,” he said. “Now they can browse our website and find things and go to a prosthetist and pick out colors, pick out different types of surfaces and strengths. Amputees are the CEOs of their own health.”

Many of these amputees are looking to design-focused companies to show off their prostheses in a visually appealing way.

“First and foremost, we are a design studio,” Ryan Palibroda said of Alleles Design Studio Ltd., the company he cofounded with McCauley Wanner. Palibroda is technology director and Wanner is art director of the company.