(NEW YORK) — Gina Adams, a mother of two in Michigan, saw firsthand the toll that Parkinson’s disease took on her stepfather, especially when he was unable to do everyday things like button his own shirt.
“He was a brilliant engineer and a guitar player, and when he could no longer button his own shirt, it was devastating for him,” Adams told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “I saw my stepdad with this whole closet of clothes he couldn’t wear.”
A few years later, when her children entered their teens, Adams went back to school to get her MBA. It was while she was there that she came up with a solution to the problem that her stepfather had been facing along with millions of other people who have dexterity issues that prevent them from getting dressed on their own.
Adams is the founder and CEO of Wareologie, a company that designs products for people with disabilities. The startup’s first product is Buttons 2 Button, magnetic adapters that can be attached to button-down shirts.
“My background is in the apparel industry, and I believe our clothes express ourselves and our identity,” Adams said. “And it is so important for people to lead their lives with a sense of normalcy.”
The adapters can be used on any traditional button-down shirt. One part goes over the shirt button and the other part on the buttonhole to turn shirts into magnetic closures.
Adams said she envisions people using the adapters to help with everything from multiple sclerosis and arthritis to recovery from hand surgery and Parkinson’s, the disease that struck her stepfather.
One in four U.S. adults has a disability that impacts major life activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The fashion industry has become more inclusive in recent years with adaptive clothing designed specifically for people with disabilities, but Adams wanted to make sure her product was affordable too.
The adapters are sold in sets of 10 for $30.
“Life doesn’t have to be that hard, so if this is one thing we can do to help people, it keeps us going,” said Adams, who has spent more than two years researching and raising capital.
Adams also went through a divorce while starting her business and has made her new venture a family affair with her kids. They helped her research hundreds of shirts and buttons as she figured out challenges like how to make the buttons machine washable and transferable, both of which they are.
“I am very fortunate to have found my life’s purpose,” Adams said. “Despite the trials and tribulations of an entrepreneur, this company feels right. Helping people regain confidence, time and dignity is important.”
Cheryl Angelelli, of Clinton Township, Michigan, has been in a wheelchair since a diving accident left her paralyzed at the age of 14. She said she was always “limited” when she would shop for shirts because she could not wear button-down shirts.
Angelelli, now an ambassador for Buttons 2 Button, said the product is as much a “psychological” boost as it is a fashionable one.
“When you have a disabling accident like I did, you lose so much of your confidence and self-esteem and independence, so you want anything you can do that gives it back,” Angelelli said. “Aside from fashion, it gives a psychological benefit too.”
“I can button my shirt faster now than when I had full use of my hands,” she added.
Wareologie is currently taking pre-orders on the Buttons 2 Button adapters. Adams and her business partner, James Murtha, who has a spinal cord injury, are also working to expand the line of products to include things like jeans and clothes for kids.
Down the line, Adams said she has plans for a concierge service where people will be able to send their clothes to be retrofitted, adding, “We are on a mission to restore independence with fashionable and stylish products.”
Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.