Shay Senior is the founder of Palta. Born in Israel, raised in Papua New Guinea and Guatemala.
Shay’s background is in the unmanned vehicle's industry in which he worked in a variety of fields worldwide, since UAV pilot was his job in the military service. After his personal injury – being in a rehabilitation center he realized the gap between people with disabilities and the rest of society and found fashion as one the first causes for that.
Together with his co-founder, they created Palta, first as a research group in the community. Thousands of people worldwide have joined the movement and form part of the Palta community for inclusive experience design. Palta is the leading global inclusive product certifier. With the vision of creating an innovative shopping and dressing experience, they develop hand in hand with global fashion brands and organizations a variety of solutions merging tech & fashion based on the daily needs of individuals with disabilities. The enterprise is community-based, leading and supporting activities of awareness and innovation bridging between people with and without disabilities through education and design.
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This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. It is not a commercial transcript. AXSCHAT Shay SeniorNEIL:
Hello and welcome to Axschat. I'm delighted that we are joined today by Shay Senior. Shay, you're joining us from Israel, and it looks great. It's a fantastic and it's not a virtual background it's a real background. So, that's amazing. Shay, I'm really interested in the topic today which is around inclusive fashion but also around ecosystems and those that listen to Axschat a lot will know that I'm really interested in ecosystems and systems of systems that can drive change. So, welcome to Axschat. Please tell us a little bit about yourself, about your organisation and how you came to be working in the space.SHAY:
So, good afternoon and thank you for inviting me. I'm excited to be here and happy to share my personal story and also what my organisation is doing for inclusivity and improving the lives of people with disabilities. So, my story in the fashion world and inclusivity world starts in 2017. In my background, I'm an expert in the unmanned vehicles industry, related to fashion but I had to lot to do with design and actually creating things that would be accessible for us all in the future and probably help us on different occasions and in 2017, I had a hand surgery which after I went out and woke up from the anaesthesia, I couldn't move my right arm at all and actually that was a meaningful moment or a change in my life being so independent from a young age, around the world working with global organisations and government around how unmanned vehicles can help them solve all kinds of problems and suddenly, I'm not anymore independent in many things that were so clear and obvious for me. And I think in the main situation, where I felt that my independence was disrupted, it was about fashion. So, the places where I would visit there was a very clear dress code, and I didn't really feel comfortable in the clothes that I was asked to wear. And I was all the time feeling like I'm waiting for this meeting to be over. So, I would take off these clothes and wear what is comfortable for me and also, I felt that it was very interesting and influencing me that I felt that my opinion and the ideas that I provided in the room were not considered in the same way anymore. And I thought that it's something related to my clothes, but I was not sure. So, I started reading a little bit of books about the relation of psychology and fashion and that's something that really cleared up my thoughts and made me realise how much influence and effect fashion and clothes specifically have on us and our self-esteem or independence but also on how we are accepted or not in social circumstances. I was in that time in a rehabilitation centre and I met people with all types of disabilities, temporal or not and it was very easy for me to question the people around me how they are dealing with clothes because each one has his own needs, his own challenges in front of the wardrobe or in the shopping experience and I decided to create questionnaires in a few languages and start sending them to people around the world to make sure that the problem is not only mine. More than a thousand people answered the questionnaire after six weeks and that was clear for me that it's something that people really need. Like, I poked the bear and now people expect me to do something about it.ANTONIO:
Shay, you're saying that you were talking with people that were in the rehabilitation with you. When you started talking with them, were they open to talk about this or this is one of those, one of those situations where each of us, each of them was dealing with this individually and they were not talking much about with everyone else? What was your impressions from those conversations?SHAY:
So, that's very interesting there is like a taboo about fashion or clothing for people with disabilities. Like, I haven't seen such a situation of one person that deals with a challenge dressing up because of dexterity asking another person that is dealing with the problem what or where does they buy and that was very challenging for me because I felt like I am going into a personal space of someone but then, if I'm asking the right questions and in the right way being respectful to their personal spaces. So, then it's like a river of answers because I am the first or one of the only people questioning about this topic. So, by the time I learned and I started converting these questionnaires to be more fitting for people because as you might know or not, the rehabilitation process physically is maybe ending at a certain point but the mental rehabilitation sometimes takes longer, even many years longer than the physical rehabilitation and that is something that I had to learn by having conversations with people from all kinds.NEIL:
So, one of the things you mentioned and I think it's kind of interesting, was that you were uncomfortable in clothes and was that just a physical discomfort or also a sort of psychological discomfort because people wear you know, you use clothes in many different ways, they use clothes for comfort, they outside clothes for disguise. You put on a suit, it's like, it changes how you present yourself and all of these kinds of things. There are multiple aspects to clothing and codes around clothing with how people perceive you. I mean, it's a complex topic. It's certainly one that a lot of people, certainly a lot of men don't talk about, you know. I like clothes but, it's rare for men to comment to other men about clothes for a start and then it must be even more uncommon to go that next step and talk about the ultra-personal of needing changes to those clothes because of a disability or a mobility impairment that makes it more difficult.SHAY:
So, I would break it into two, the answer actually. But I really agree with you about the second part that we men don't talk too much about clothing. I will also add another element that is the culture that we come from or the country that we live in that clothes have a different meaning in different places. In some countries you should have a suit and in others that's not common at all. So, it also influences the level and the importance of clothing in our life. I would say that the psychological challenge, as I mentioned before, in my case, dealing with the feeling that I am not valued the same way as I've been before, wearing different types of clothes made me think about all of different kinds of people that I've met in the rehabilitation centre and out of it that some of them are looking for clothes that are comfortable because it means a lot. Let's take for example people in wheelchairs with bed sores, that is something that can be very challenging and might influence our lives for months if we don't care about ourselves and wear clothes that are fitting the needs. That's the physical side.ANTONIO:
So, how do you see the role of clothing in helping and speeding up the process of rehabilitation?SHAY:
I think as the word is progressing, I can see a lot of, they call that category wearables. We can see a lot of elements if it's watches or different types of technologies in the textile. That's on one side. It's different type of companies but then we have fashion brands that also have influence on what is the range of projects that they offer and who is the range of individuals that are able to buy from them. In the shopping experience, offline and online and I found out that a lot of people don't even realise how much their clothes make them feel or represent them when they go out and it's mostly people that have experience in fashion or studies, topics related to design or history that would have that would be more mindful about the clothes that they wear or what people around them are wearing. And that's a topic that we can talk about for days on what clothes mean in different countries and different cultures but at the end, the general experience of people with disabilities with clothes starts from the will to wear something. As I see it, that's the third most important things in our lives. If we have a roof, food in the fridge or in whatever source that it would be, the next thing would be clothes because we want to go out and it influences our personal relations, our social collaboration and if we won't have clothes or fashion that fits then that would make us maybe ignored or judged in a different way than we've been if we'd wear clothes that fit the situation. But also, it creates a lot of value, or I don't know if differentiation is the right word but uniqueness when we can choose to wear specific clothes that we'll feel and be very unique in comparison to people around us and that could be something that creates the conversation or leads people to engage with us.NEIL:
Yeah, I agree. So, that you know, so how does Palta, the organisation that you started deliver on that promise because you're not a clothing brand? You know you've come as you've said from an innovation community. So, how are you helping change clothing so that it is more inclusive?SHAY:
So, that was a very interesting process because at the beginning when I went to speak with fashion brands and offered them ideas for clothes, so there would be all kinds of excuses that it's not a big enough market and that that's not their focus in the next collection and so on, so on. I was thinking maybe I should build up a collection for people with disabilities but then, looking at all the data, I've realised that people buy in all different stores. They want to feel part of the communities of different brands and that was something that made us, me and my co-founder think about it in a way that we have a lot of knowledge and personal experiences, as people with disabilities, that we want to share it with all kinds of brands, you know. My goal and expectation is to be able to enter to whatever shop with my family, with my friends and be able to buy clothes as everyone else and what Palta is doing is basically to be that bridge between people with disabilities individual needs and fashion brands goals or will to be responsible but also provide products to a very big market that we are not seeing or talking about enough, if we are not part of this ecosystem. What we do is first to certify garments. So Palta is working in three levels. The first is to certify the garments. We have the ability to look over a lot of platforms that sell clothes, looking to collections, catalogues and classify that product of course, involving people from all the subcategories of people with disabilities being able to say okay that's the score to for a certain product because it fits X millions of individuals. The next step is the certification where we have parameters that represent the different groups that we expertise in, as part of the community of people with disabilities and the third is to create these garments. So, after a company receives our certificate, we can see that in a very high percentage, they raise their sales and not only by people with disabilities. Every person with disability have family members, that's the second circle that would be if they are not yet customers of that brand and the third circle are the people that are buying from brands that have a strong agenda and a social responsibility, companies that see individuals with disabilities as customers and not only as themselves doing something that is socially responsible and all this backed by data, that's I think the biggest value that we have. We can say okay, that's the change that you might do in a product, or you have this existing product now. Do it in six more versions that creates actually the ability for the brands to reach a wider range and also grow the range of products that they offer.NEIL:
Yeah. Go on Antonio.ANTONIO:
Shay, how does the engagement with the brands start? It starts with you reaching them out or they are small, we should talk with them because they can help us to improve our range of clothes or it's a customer of a brand that knows somehow is able to make these collections. How does that engagement go?SHAY:
So, I have decided it happens from both directions. Sometimes they contact us, and they are interested to learn more about their designs and how they can be more influential. In most of the cases they speak about adaptive clothing and that's also a topic that is important to discuss, the difference between adaptive and inclusive. Adaptive is basically creating a new section and I feel that it's not including the community of people with disabilities but creating a new sector of clothes or a new collection and if they do it in inclusive designs. So, they don't stop from selling to the existing customers but they add another market into their shops and in the second case, basically we contact the brands that we find products that have community involved or were accidentally made for people with disabilities and we are happy to share it with the design team, telling them that they have these kinds of products but because at the end, if there is no connection between the company itself. Let's take the most basic and simple informative space, the description of a product in an ecommerce website, the company doesn't really know what words they need to use. So, I would read it and say, I understand why this but I'm not sure it works for me, or I can see why these pants will be more comfortable if I'm sitting eight hours or I'm a wheelchair user. The description is not really presenting what I'm expecting to see as well as the images of a product. Like, doing the shot on different kinds of posters. It doesn't really mean that you need to bring a person in a wheelchair to wear these pants. If there is a photo to someone sitting, I can relate it and understand that these pants would work for me as well if I'm a wheelchair user.ANTONIO:
So, when you are engaging with brands, two questions, do you feel the need to explain what you are doing or they immediately see the value and the other is, once they see the value and they start building clothes, are they marketing those clothes as any clothes or they end up creating a special area on the website where people go for that particular type of clothes?SHAY:
So, again I would start from the end, the companies that contact us and speak with us about creating a different section, we tell them that that's not what we are doing and what we expect is to integrate the needs of people with disabilities and the mainstream collection. It's not creating a new segment in the company and we teach them how to do of course and the design as they said and also how to market correctly to people with disabilities using the right descriptions, images, representation of individuals from the community and about what you asked if they understand it easily and quickly so, of course not that's because I feel there is a lack of conversation about our body and looking at the clothing and fashion in perspective of 3D and not 2D as it's normally learned in university and then when a designer meets such a challenge or a request to create clothes for people with disabilities, it feels a little bit rare and not related to their knowledge. So, in the beginning and I'm sharing it because it's important for me also to tell. Of course, I will not say the names of the brands, but I felt that in the conversations with the design team, I was judging them for not doing clothes for the community. And then we changed a little bit the conversation that we use, that's actually the most honest I can see, it's like coming to artist and saying oh no, you have to add here a red line on your painting and people would not receive it as something positive, it's negative and we want to be as positive as possible and as meaningful as possible for the brand to learn and be able to implement it.ANTONIO:
Sometimes the uncomfortable becomes useful right?SHAY:
So, talking of uncomfortable, I was thinking about you sort of finding clothes and reviews and I was smiling because I read an article in the Guardian, a UK newspaper, the other week, where someone did a review of men's underpants and it was a female journalist and the comments were just hilarious because they were like you know, it's like, you can't do this, it needs to be a man doing this. We have certain things inside these garments that you know, you wouldn't ask a man to review a bra and so, I mean I think it's really, you know people don't, a bit in the disability community, through social media, you see in certain forums, people are talking about certain garments right? Now, I'm neurodivergent right, so I'm in some of the sort of community where people are autistic who are autistic, you know quite often have sensitivity issues like garments feel uncomfortable. They don't want seams. There is a tendency to, when they find something that they really like go and bulk buy it. So, they end up being like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg and wearing the same t shirt for 20 years, but they have got 300 of them. I guess what you're doing is taking it from something like that where you have to go and buy 300 of the same thing, to having the opportunity to have a bit more variety but the same psychological comfort and physical comfort of knowing that when you go and buy it, it's still going to have the qualities that you need it to have.SHAY:
So, that's actually something that we are asked a lot. The companies would ask us, okay people with disabilities are so different, there are so many subcategories, how do you help us make something that fits them all and then my answer is that nothing would fit us all, otherwise we wouldn't have so many fashion brands doing a white t shirt. But we can create the ability to have your product to be relevant for a very wide rage and it's all focused on three categories. Sensory, as you said, dexterity and body type. Having these three and meeting the parameters that we have defined through our research and the participation of people from all kinds of subcategories and the disabilities community we are able to provide the most effective or the most inclusive options for a brand to design with. So, the widest range of individuals will be able to buy from them and by the way, every product that we find, even if it's a brand that we don't start working with or don't continue working with. Everything is shared with our community. So, people are able to see these products even if we didn't certify that specific brand. We have our channels in social media that we do a product highlight. Also for companies that we are not a business relationship with because our responsibility is first to bring up to people like me that have got injured and now they have a type of disability. As well as people that were born with disabilities. The range of product that exist and if we have already found it as part of our job. I think it makes sense and it's our responsibility to share it as wide as possible with the community, so people would know the options that exist.NEIL:
Yeah. So, I mean, I actually really like browsing the internet for clothing and it passes many an hour and some of the platforms you use, they get halfway there. You can sort of specify your basic body type. Whether your middle aged and have a saggy bit in the middle here and then they will start suggesting clothes accordingly. But what none of them really do at the moment are those extra bits. You know, actually I like you know, I've my preferences, you know, my sensory profile. I like the soft fabric; I like it to be light. I don't like seams, you know, I don't like scratchy wool. You know, those kinds of things. They are not there.SHAY:
Ten percent of the society is like you, it's not only you.NEIL:
No, no exactly. I'm not unique in any way, shape or form. I just think that you know it's a little bit hit and miss, well very hit and miss with a lot of the sort of online browsing of clothes and not only is that okay you get the excitement of shopping the new thing is coming and then it turns up and it doesn't fit or it's scratchy, that is also, aside from being demoralising and a pain in the behind to send back again it's really bad for the environment. So, not only, if we could get this right and enable people to have a much better way of choosing stuff that really suits them and not just makes them look smart or whatever societal norm, they wish to conform to by wearing these things. But fitted them, met their needs for comfort and ability to do up the buttons and be independent, you know, dressing themselves and so on. It would also be good for the environment.SHAY:
I definitely agree, and you know you just gave the example of smart clothes and I always say, and you know question with our team and teams of fashion brands that we talk with. Who said that buttons are the best way to connect two pieces of textile. Like, we are in 2022. There is so much technology. Things are advancing so much, and sustainability is dependent on inclusivity. If the clothes that we create would be relevant or an option for people with disabilities to wear. So, probably there would be less waste for the fashion industry because more people would be able to buy from these products and I think that what you said about online shopping, the industry still has a lot to do in relation of creating trust within the community of people of disabilities because, as I mentioned before, if we don't have the right description and images or video that represents the product in the right way, I am not feeling very comfortable to buy online from a store that is abroad and then if it doesn't fit me I would have to go to the Post Office and we mainly seen it during COVID days, when everybody was at home and then the whole society were able to feel a little bit of what it is to be a person with a disability and in some cases, people that are not really going to physical shops and I think that that's creating a big revolution also in the online shopping. We are mostly focused on the online shopping because we understand the, it's talking to a wider range of individuals and we want to provide the ability for the brands to sell in all different regions and also from people in all different regions to be able to buy from some brands that their examples of companies that do clothes for people with disabilities. So, in very specific regions, if you are not living in the US or the UK and you're not a customer and you won't be able to buy the kinds of garments that they develop.NEIL:
So, one final thing before we close and this has been really interesting, was, one of the things that I've seen is you know, particularly with shirt manufacturers, actually is that you can order customised clothing and we are in the age of mass customisation. So, do you think that there will come a point where your community will be able to have their profiles and their preferences and be able to say well, I like that kind of style, make it to me for my profile. So, you know it will have my favourite type of colour or my favourite types of material. You know, my body shape. My personal fasteners or whatever so, because I mean, it seems to be that there is an opportunity where you know you can sort of fit together components and you could enable something that is much better than something that is mass produced if it can be done in a way that is easily replicable.SHAY:
So, I feel that if we are understanding the world is keep going for mass production and being even more massive than what it is now. Inclusive design is more relevant than adaptive and, at the moment that your sizing chart becomes more inclusive and being in whatever country in the world, I would know that medium is medium, and it doesn't matter from what company I buy from. So, that would be something that enables me to be loyal to the brand and know because as you said before, people buy 300 shirts from that same product that's because of the bad experience shopping online. So, I bought one time, or someone bought for me a shirt from a certain company, and I can give an example about jeans from Munich that I know wheelchair users, buy on eBay, second-hand jeans because they stopped the production of these types of jeans. But suddenly they have a lot of elements that work better for wheelchair users because of the elasticity and the pockets in the back that are flat and a rubber band that you've in the front and all different types of elements. So, the company doesn't know about it. So, they stopped the production. But people found that product that works for them and they keep buying from that same kind of product. So, as I see it, the ideal situation is that we would contact Uniclor and share with them that experience of individuals not as just as a company but as a social group represented by 30,000 individuals in wheelchairs saying that that garment works for them. It's a business opportunity but also a social responsibility of that company to continue producing from that same type of product giving them the ability to keep selling. And that's something important about the data that, if I can close with it because you said it's a closer question, the brands are not really able to ask you because of your neurodiversity or me as someone that has a dexterity issue with my right arm, if we bought that specific product because of our disability. It's not politically correct neither ethically right to question us in that way. If we add it as a review on the product, that's great for them. But they don't really know about it and that's what we provide to the companies. At the end, it's a value to both sides. The community get exposed to products that we find based on the parameters that each individual that is part of our community has defined what fit him or her and the brands are able to get feedback from a very wide range of individuals that bought a specific product from their brand and know the numbers that they see of sales of certain products means that that group is shopping for them and these are the people that are ordering 50,000 pieces from a country that they didn't sell to before this amount and now there is a garment doing very well in a certain country. We can direct it to what is the reason for that and who is the audience that was buying.NEIL:
Excellent it's the data driven insights that are pushing forward inclusion here.SHAY:
Yeah, that's where our world is going. If you said that the mass production, we would be able to customise to ourselves. So I can say that we have a case study with the Paralympics delegation of Israel. Tokyo games and what they realise we were able to create a collection that in 98% of the participants they were all wearing the same in a sizing chart that was fitting them all and only 2% of them needed some customisations. So, that also makes space to be a stronger believer in inclusive design for the companies and also for our environment.NEIL:
Yeah, excellent. Thank you, very much Shay. It's been a real pleasure talking with you. I need to thank My Clear Text for keeping us captioned and point out to people that we have a Go Fund Me. So check out Axschat Go Fund Me. Shay, we really look forward to encouraging people joining in the conversation with you and us on Twitter on Tuesday night. Thank you very much.SHAY:
Thank you very much. Keep on smiling.