There are three things Canadians are renowned for: being super polite, Schitt’s Creek hilarity, and knowing how to dress when it’s very, very cold.
They live by the credo “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate fashion choices,” and Canadian outerwear brands all but wrote the frigid-weather-coat playbook. But when it came to finding warm adaptive outerwear, wheelchair users were often, left with few choices.
“You don’t want to be cold, you do want to be kool!”
Enter Canadian clothier and outerwear company Koolway Sports, which recognized that adaptive outerwear meant more than just warmth. They engineered a zip-on modular coat/blanket and accessories system customized to any type of body and chair.
Every fashion solution starts with an aha moment, and Koolway Sports did too. Entrepreneurs and co-founders John A. Cook and Jennifer Gallienne didn’t have design experience and aren’t wheelchair users themselves, but their experiences paved the way.
“I visited Sunnybrook Veterans Hospital in Toronto and was disgusted how they just threw a coat on the Vets backwards and draped a ratty blanket on their legs that kept getting caught in the wheels,” says Gallienne, who wanted to do more. The two turned their talents to “Living Life the Koolway” and launched Koolway Sports in the fall of 2009, later getting selected as one of the first 10 brands featured on Zappos Adaptive’s rollout.
“People always say, ‘This is so cool!’ when they see our products,” says Cook, hence the Koolway name and items like KoolKoat, KoolKape, KoolBoot, etc. “You don’t want to be cold, you do want to be kool!”
“Every fashion solution starts with an aha moment, and Koolway Sports did too.”
CUSTOM MADE FOR EVERYONE
Koolway Sports has done programs with wheelchair companies Sunrise Medical Canada and Permobile, but where they really shine is customization. “Bespoke” and “personalized” might be buzzy fashion world adjectives, but these self-described “custom tailors for the world of disabilities” are about long-term solutions.
For that custom fit, clients provide six measurements, then meet on a Zoom call with Cook and Gallienne themselves. Everything is analyzed. Does the wheelchair have a head clamp? Does the coat need slits for a shoulder harness or g-tube for feeding? Does the fleece lining need to be swapped for quilted nylon if the client has a trach opening for breathing? Does the client want a half-back coat to avoid bunching and sweating due to a custom wheelchair?
Koolways oversees specialized production with local production. They teamed up with Toronto’s George Brown Fashion Exchange, whose workshop trains students and immigrants with sewing experience to manufacture the garments.
The designs champion efficiency. “The last thing anyone wants is to prolong the winter dressing stage, as that just leads to overheating and frustration,” says Cook, who claims Koolway Koats can dress anyone in just two to three minutes, instead of 15-20+ minutes with off-the-rack clothing. In Koolway parlance, families partially unzip the sleeves, place the Koat over the head like a Kape, zipper up the sleeves, then zip the front blanket to the front of the Koat. KoolBoots have full-back zippers for those AFO's for foot and ankle support.
The trick is to get people outside fast and enjoying winter. “We have clients who sit ski in full Koolways outfits for four-to-five hours,” says Cook, noting that the ski instructors in “traditional” coats work in shifts as they get cold and need to go in.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Koolway Sports works with numerous organizations in the US including the Badass Wounded Warriors, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and The American CP Foundation. And like many cool items serving the adaptive market, word of mouth propels the messaging.
One woman was so thrilled to discover Koolway Sports via an internet search that she posted her find on her Facebook group to raise money for her daughter’s coat and blanket. A follower in her town saw the post, called Koolway 15 minutes later and paid for the full order. To pay it forward, the first woman started a GoFundMe and raised enough money to buy seven Koolway Koats for other children in her region.