This woman entrepreneur started an adaptive clothing label after losing 80 pc mobility

Kolkata-based Soumita Basu lost 80 percent mobility, and found herself wheelchair-bound due to an autoimmune disorder. But as someone who refused to get deterred, she started her own clothing label, Zyenika Fashion, to make clothes for the differently abled.

This woman entrepreneur started an adaptive clothing label after losing 80 pc mobility

Saturday July 16, 2022,

6 min Read

Have you ever tried to zip up your jacket with one hand? Put on a pair of trousers whilst you are still seated? Or perhaps tried to look for winter wear beyond a shawl or a blanket for someone in a wheelchair? These are all just some of the hassles that differently-abled people go through every single day in order to simply find the right clothing.

Kolkata-based Soumita Basu was all set to travel to the Netherlands to do her Master’s when she first felt a nagging foot ache. Over a period of time, the foot ache developed into a full-blown mobility problem, and Soumita, then 30, was unable to move anything from her jaws to her toes.

After several hospital visits, poking and prodding, in 2014, Soumita got diagnosed with the autoimmune disease psoriatic arthritis, a form of arthritis that affects people who have the skin condition psoriasis.

“Apparently, I had a very unique manifestation of the disease. So now, I've resigned to the fact that I'm an extremely unique person,” laughs Soumita in her characteristic cheerful manner.

“It went undiagnosed for three years, but it finally left me totally bedridden. I couldn't even turn sides on my own. People would roll me over and roll me back to the straight position,” says Soumita, now 39, in a chat with HerStory.

Soumita’s need for customised clothing eventually led to the birth of Zyenika Fashion in 2019. Based in Kolkata, Zyenika provides a range of adaptive and inclusive clothing for those with disabilities and physical challenges who found dressing up difficult or need assistance.

Overcoming barriers

“I was in a wheelchair most times and I used crutches when I could. However, it became more difficult for me to go to public places because they have stairs, small entryways, etc.,” says Soumita.

Celebrated British physicist Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in his 20s, and who had spent much of his life in a wheelchair, once said: “People with disabilities are vulnerable because of the many barriers they face: attitudinal, physical, and financial. Addressing these barriers is within our reach.....But most important, addressing these barriers will unlock the potential of so many people with so much to contribute to the world.”

For Soumita, the first step toward addressing these barriers meant being able to “dress to my limitations”. When she started looking online for clothing options, she was convinced that there was a problem, but also naively believed there would be a solution–customised clothing for people with disabilities. “I could not believe that it was not very common,” she says.  

After some initial research, finding a gap in the market for inclusive wear, and trying the clothes on her own self, Soumita launched Zyenika supported by GIAN (Grassroots Innovations Augmentation Network), Ahmedabad.

A wrap-up saree which can be worn lying down, a top that opens up from the armholes for people with limited shoulder and arm movement, a kurta without buttons, kneepads in trousers to prevent bruising for people who crawl, and adaptive innerwear for men and women are just some of the clothes that she has worked on, and is still innovating. Products are priced anywhere between Rs 600 to Rs 5000.

She continues, “For an adult, it’s really difficult, not just emotionally as a process, but even physically to get through somebody changing your clothes when you can hardly ever have a stable body.”

Although she has no professional training in the field, Soumita’s experiences have been her biggest learnings. Soumita feels it’s a blessing not having formal training, as this gives her the space to think outside the box.

She speaks of her experience designing clothing for a nine-year-old in a wheelchair, who had trouble going to the restrooms in his school due to his standard uniform design. Soumita says, “The shorts were made such that while sitting on the wheelchair itself, he could go to the toilet and use it on his own without any additional help. He told me how this helped him continue going to school, or else he would have to be home-schooled, which he was really not looking forward to.”

Soumita Basu Zyenika Fashion

At the Tata Social Entrepreneurship challenge, when Zyenika Fashion bagged the 1st runners-up award. Soumita's proud and happy mother Amita Basu looks on.

Impact in more ways than one

Soumita is mindful of employing women and people with disabilities, directly or indirectly. Currently, she outsources a lot of the stitching work to marginalised communities and is also in the process of building her own factory.

“I want to build one of those companies that is an example to others on how to be profitable and inclusive at the same time. Inclusion is not an additional cost that you're adding, although that's what most people think because the processes are very exclusively designed. In a jungle, you cannot have just an elephant, right? You have to have an entire ecosystem!” she remarks. Zyenika as a brand is also conscious about not adding to the landfill and believes in reusing and recycling.

For the last two to three years, Zyenika has been primarily providing customised and bespoke clothing. Some other niche brands that also look at inclusive fashion in India include Kerala-based Move Ability, and Cocoon by Old is Gold Store, Chennai. Soumita is now prepping her readymade collection, and wants to make it available off the shelf for people who have urgent requirements. She hopes to launch this in less than a month through Zyenika’s social media channels and website.

Talking about her organisation, she says, ”My mother, Amita Basu, is the co-founder of Zyenika. However, with time and her experience with me, she's not just a mother, but also somebody who knows how to be a primary caregiver. It can be tough on some days, because I do still fall sick very often, and if I need my mother, then both the founder and the co-founder can be away. So that’s been a challenge.”

Now, Soumita is looking forward to building a small but reliable team that can work on Zyenika’s vision of making adaptive clothing more a norm than an exception.

“I do want to enter into the winter clothes segment soon because, you know, we have the same problem in the winter. Each day, my mind works at a different speed, my body works at a different speed, and my business works at another speed. So, for now, I will just take each day as it comes…” concludes Soumita.

Edited by Megha Reddy