They say necessity is the mother of invention, and this invention came from two Massachusetts mothers with a need: clothing for those with disabilities. Nikki Puzzo and Joanne DiCamillo founded befree, an adaptive clothing brand — inspired by Puzzo’s daughter, Stella.
“I don’t let anything stop me in life — and that’s pretty cool,” Stella told CBS News.
The eighth-grader likes to swim, do gymnastics and work out with a trainer, her mother said.
Born with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, Stella was 5 when she had double hip surgery that left her with casts on both legs and a bar between them — making it impossible for her to wear traditional pants.
Surgeons told Puzzo that her daughter would have to wear dresses or a long T-shirt for three months while she recovered.
“She doesn’t like to look at any type of brace or Band-Aids or anything like incisions,” Puzzo told CBS News. “So, I decided to go out and make her a pair of pants.”
Using a pair of brightly colored pajama bottoms, she took them apart at the seams and sewed in Velcro. It was a simple fix, but it was a “game changer” for her daughter, she said.
“And then at her post-op appointment, she was wearing them,” Puzzo added. “And the doctor at [Boston] Children’s [Hospital] said, ‘You need to make these. So many parents ask us all the time what to dress their children in, and you basically solved that problem.’”
When she recounted what the surgeon said, Joanne DiCamillo was shocked.
“I was just really blown away by that,” DiCamillo told CBS News. “This was just something that was missing from the market and just something that didn’t exist.”
It was there that befree was born. But with neither woman having fashion experience, they enlisted the help of a third mom: DiCamillo’s 85-year-old mother, who can sew.
All three women worked on the next prototype, eventually making a switch from Velcro to zippers after consulting with medical experts. They were granted utility and design patents for their pants and launched their website in 2022.
“We want people to ‘dress with less stress,’” Puzzo said, which is the company’s motto.
While befree did raise money through a crowdfunding campaign, the company is mostly self-funded, according to DiCamillo. They haven’t sought outside investment yet.
Even though other companies sell adaptive clothes, DiCamillo hopes their company will be the one to take it mainstream. Their dream is that in five years, their adaptive clothes will be common in stores and be sold alongside traditional clothes.
DiCamillo noted that potential buyers are not limited to just children with disabilities, but adults with disabilities and other people recovering from surgeries. “The market is really huge,” she said.
“We started getting a lot of requests as people saw the kid’s pants,” DiCamillo said. “We got a lot of requests for adult sizes.”
The next piece of clothing on their list?
“So, leggings [are] in the works — as well as shorts and joggers,” Puzzo said.
“And jeans,” her daughter added.
Like any mother, Puzzo wants her daughter to grow up to be independent. She made a promise to Stella to do anything in her power to give her that freedom — no matter what.
“I want to instill in her that she is beautiful, powerful, strong, no matter what,” she said. “And she can always do whatever she puts her mind to, and I believe that, you know, whether she is able-bodied or not.”
Michael Roppolo is a CBS News reporter. He covers a wide variety of topics, including science and technology, crime and justice, and disability rights.
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