Read the entire interview of the ALLELES founders on Refinery29 below.

What Happens When You Treat Prosthetics As Accessories

Words by: Landon Peoples

Since their invention (which dates back to 950 B.C.E.), prosthetics have served one purpose: function. But unlike other functional aids, like glasses, that have become fashion accessories, too, prosthetics have mostly been meant to be as invisible as possible. The Alleles Design Studio, a Canada-based creative duo revamping the traditional prosthetic limb, is leading the charge to change that.
Art director McCauley Wanner and technology director Ryan Palibroda are not prosthetists or prosthetic wearers, nor do they come from typical fashion design backgrounds. But their mission is simple: to turn prosthetics into something that adds to a look, instead of disappearing within it, or distracting from it. And that’s why their prosthetic covers are so important.

Starting at $325, the products, which slip atop a prosthesis like a boot to add design elements from the geometric and high-tech looking to plaid, floral, and even color-blocked patterns, are bespoke and comprised of different types of ABS plastic (a durable, lightweight, flexible, cleanable, and easily modifiable material). They have already been seen on the runway. And in 2014, Wanner and Palibroda won the Emerging Fashion Designers of Canada award.

We spoke to the masterminds of the Alleles Design Studio about everything from how they started, why their work is important, and how they’re influencing the world of prosthetic fashion. See what they have to say, ahead, as well as a selection of their offerings.

Al Malonga and Cacsmy Brutus (who is modeling the prosthetic). See more of Cacsmy Brutus in our Take Back The Beach campaign.

What was the moment the Alleles Design Studio became an idea?
Ryan Palibroda: “The idea for fashionable prosthetic covers came about during McCauley’s Industrial Design research in 2010. In 2013, we left our design jobs in Montreal, moved back to Alberta to live at McCauley’s parents house to try and bring the project into reality. Within a couple weeks of moving back, The Telus Spark Science Center in Calgary asked if McCauley would be willing to show her research in an exhibition called Beyond Human and do a presentation. We decided we would use that opportunity as a launching pad for our company. At this time we didn’t have a website, business cards, any designs, or a name.”

How are the covers made?
RP: “The first prototype was made out of card-stock back in 2010. The idea, materials, and shape evolved over the next few years. We didn’t want to come out with a one-off prototype, get people excited about it, but then no one could actually have it. We wanted to be able to continuously build up the design catalog so that there was enough selection to provide a shopping experience around the designs. Up until about six months ago, our product changed a ton every month. We are now at a cool stage where we are happy with it. Of course we will always continue to refine it, but that’s the fun part for us.”

Where do the designs come from?
McCauley Wanner: “The designs start in a variety of different ways. It can start as a sketch or an over-arching concept. Typically Ryan tends to play with patterning in order to manipulate the material using parametric design.”

RP: “McCauley tends to look through fashion and interior design trends. We then take what is good about each of our designs and sort of mash them together until we are happy with how the designs look on the leg, if they are innovative, and if they seem commercial.”

What has been the reception from prosthetic wearers?
MW: “We have had an overwhelming positive response to the covers. We are still surprised that the covers are doing exactly what we set them out to do and are working for people. By creating something that allows people to include their prosthesis as part of their wardrobe, it has actually shifted the conversation around ones’ prosthetic leg to revolve around style, technology, and innovation, rather than the cringe-worthy question that so many of our clients get multiple times a day: ‘What happened to your leg?'”