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Ann Oliver, Founder of XENI Collection (INTERVIEW)

Couture Fashion for the Physically Disabled

— May 8, 2012 — Social Good
Ann Oliver and XENI Collection gives people limited by their physical disabilities a way to live a practical, independent life. Ann uses her training in architecture and creativity to solve a real a problem for real people -- she’s a true entrepreneur.

Niche is good: and here we have couture fashion for the physically disabled. So often we take for granted the simple, everyday tasks of life that most of us are able to do without question: zip up our pants, button our shirt, put on our favorite necklace. But imagine not having control over your body; muscle spasms so severe you’re confined to a wheelchair or sudden vision loss requiring you to take weeks off from work.

These sort of challenges are what inspired Ann Oliver to create XENI Collection, a couture fashion collection for the physically disabled. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1990, Ann is an architect who retired due to complications with MS and now uses a wheelchair to get around. As she says, she needed “an outlet for my then dormant creativity.” XENI was born out of a love for quality fashion and a great need for independence. Magnetic clasps instead of zippers and buttons and “free seat” clothing for those in wheelchairs: XENI Collection offers practical and fashionable solutions. 

Five Questions with Ann Oliver

1. Where did the idea for XENI originate?

Lying down one afternoon I had an idea about a dress that I could put on independently without needing to be able to stand. It had what I have now called a free seat, in other words, it did not go underneath the bottom.

It really was a riveting idea. I felt as though I had shot an arrow clean through a series of rings each representing the things I wanted out of life. I would use the insights that my condition had given me to provide women like me with fashionable couture quality clothing. After I had embarked on this course, I thought of a number of other innovations that would be able to make the lot of women like me easier. I live in London, which is home to two premiere schools of fashion design: Central St. Martins and London College of Fashion and where I have been able to study. London also has a Centre for Fashion Enterprise, which helps fashion designers like me to bring their ideas to market, and which has generously given me some much needed help.

2. What’s the vision for Xeni in 5 years?

I want to grow XENI into a company with a viable long-term prospect. In five years, I am hoping to have several full-time employees to provide people with long-term jobs and incomes and from there grow the business even further.

3. Where do you find the greatest source of inspiration?

My inspiration comes from my reactions to images that I see all around me. I cannot draw myself effectively and I have difficulty manipulating scissors but I cut out images that inspire me and assemble them in a collection, which I draw inspiration from. I also describe what I require to my pattern cutter by saying, “a little like this one but changed in this way,” and sketch out what I can as best I can.

4. Share a success story that resulted from the good work you do and clothing you design.

I have had wonderful conversations with people who have contacted me and whom I hope have helped with some what can be personal problems to do with clothing.

5. Fill in the blank: Life is…

This life is all you’ve got, do your best with the time you have.