Functional and Fashionable

By Frank Radosevich II
December 3, 2012

For diabetic children who require an insulin pump, wardrobe options are often limited. Finding an item that is both stylish, comfortable and accommodates the portable device that manages their blood sugar levels is a challenge.

But thanks to a class of Bradley students, 12 individuals with juvenile diabetes have turned their medical machines into fashion statements.

A family and consumer sciences course had students design apparel items that comfortably held the external pumps and accessories while allowing the child to enjoy an active lifestyle. The Bradley students also tailored the items to match their clients’ specific aesthetic style and needs.

“When we first started this project, we were making very simple little pouches for the insulin pumps. Now we’ve graduated up into making full apparel items and supply kits,” said Kendra Brandes, associate professor for family and consumer science who teaches the class.

Raven Macon, a junior majoring in nutrition and wellness in the family and consumer science department, said she and her classmates learned how to measure, cut and sew the fabric by hand. The students also met with their clients to find out what they wanted and what their current clothes lacked.

“Learning about the kids and getting to know their family was so important to us because it allowed us to create something that they’ll love,” Macon said.

Some of the items the class created ranged from pants and sweatshirts that have concealed pouches with a clear vinyl screen so the wearer can quickly and easily read their blood sugar levels. Other items included handbags that can lug around supplies like extra insulin, hypodermic needles, juice boxes and test kits.

Deena Bishop, a freshman in marketing, sewed together a pair of athletic pants that have an inside pocket for the pump and its tubing her client wears. Before receiving the pants Bishop’s client used a pencil case to carry around the device.

“They find anything they can to carry the pump,” Bishop said. “I think getting a personalized item is a big deal for them.”

Brandes said the idea for the course came from Bradley alumna Nicole Herron ’00 who was working as a diabetic educator for an insulin pump manufacturer. Herron saw a lack of kid friendly insulin pump packs on the market and contacted the Department of Family and Consumer Science to ask if students would be interested in creating custom packs for children. Brandes said this is the fourth year the one-hour class has been offered.

Brandes said during the course students gain experience working with fabric and apparel as well as a better understanding of what juvenile diabetes is and how it affects the lives of families and children.

“There is a universal desire to help among the students,” she said. “It’s really gratifying to see how much they want to give of themselves.