This Designer Created A Collection Of Garments Covered In Zippers And Secret Pockets For People With Type 1 Diabetes

"Education and awareness of these conditions is ultimately what saves lives."

Most people would take one look at a garment in budding designer Natalie Balmain's collection and assume all the zippers and cut-outs were simply stylistic choices. But the truth is these features also serve a very specific function. Balmain's UK-based womenswear brand Type 1 Clothing was created to help people with type 1 diabetes manage their condition and boost their confidence. 

"Type 1 diabetes is one of the most widely known, and yet least understood, conditions in the world, and I'm really hoping that this line will go some way to building awareness about the condition, and the things diabetics go through, but rarely complain about, on a daily basis," Balmain told A Plus. 


Courtesy of Natalie Balmain

Balmain was inspired to create the line after she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 20 years old. Type 1 diabetes is a common chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream to the cells to produce energy. 

"About 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes and an estimated 40,000 people will be newly diagnosed each year," according to the American Diabetes Association. Although type 1 diabetes more commonly appears during childhood or adolescence, many adults, like Balmain, also develop the condition. 

While there is currently no cure, there are a few different treatments to manage the condition. Some may inject insulin into their body multiple times a day. Others may opt to use an insulin pump, a device worn on the outside of the body with a tube connecting to a reservoir of insulin attached to a catheter. The device is programmed to dispense specific amounts of insulin automatically. Both options can make clothing options stressful. 

Courtesy of Natalie Balmain

"I had always been very keen on my fashion and had always enjoyed getting dressed up and looking nice. But when I was diagnosed, I found myself slipping into a rut of wearing leggings and jumpers all the time. It just made it easier for me to access my skin and do my injections," Balmain said. "I think everybody enjoys wearing comfy clothes here and there, but when you do it day in and day out, you start to feel a bit like how you dress — and I was feeling slouchy, lethargic and not very attractive." 

Her mood and self-confidence took a hit, and she was frustrated that she couldn't wear the clothes she loved. 

"I'm a big fan of jumpsuits, but if I wanted to wear one to a restaurant, and then had to do my injection for my meal, I couldn't unzip my jumpsuit all the way down at the table to get to my stomach or leg. So, I would be forced to go into the restrooms to take my injection, which isn't always a pleasant place to be," she said. "I so wished I could just unzip a bit of my trouser fabric at the table and discreetly inject right there in the restaurant. After all, why should I be the one to move? I knew it was a similar story for my diabetic friends on insulin pumps, too. If they wanted to wear a nice dress and it had no pockets, where would they store their pump?" 

So, she decided to start Type 1 Clothing. Thanks to strategically placed zippers, cut-outs, and slits, type 1 diabetics can more easily access their skin to give themselves insulin injections when needed. Her clothes also have discreet pockets that make it easier for people to conceal and access their insulin pumps. 

Courtesy of Natalie Balmain

While Balmain's designs are certainly practical and stylish, she hopes the line will serve an even bigger purpose. 

"I want diabetics to feel like they can be open and relaxed about doing their injections in public, which isn't possible if you're pulling your trousers half way down your bum. If you can just sit at a restaurant table and unzip an opening on your trouser leg to allow you to do your injection right there, then you're not forced to hide away in a toilet," she said. "If other people see what you're doing, and want to ask questions about it, then you're also starting a really healthy dialogue with people who may not understand, or may have misconceptions about the condition. Education and awareness of these conditions is ultimately what saves lives." 

In addition to raising awareness and helping people with type 1 diabetes feel more comfortable, Balmain donates 5 percent of her profits to diabetes research studies around the world. 

"Research is the only way we can improve treatments, develop new medicines and save lives. It is really important to me that I give back to the community that I love, and who has supported me through this journey," she said. 

Courtesy of Natalie Balmain

It's taken her nearly two years to get her self-funded collection off the ground, and she has learned a lot along the way. "It's been a real struggle, and I've not even been able to treat myself to a meal out for a long time! If I didn't have so much belief in what I was trying to do, I probably would have given up a million times," she said. 

She's hopeful that the clothing line will make a real difference for the people living with this condition, and she plans to continue to expand her line to include menswear, as well as clothing for kids and teens. 


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