Molly fuller shirt 3

Some of Molly Fuller’s compression shirts for children with autism.

Twin Cities-based designer Molly Fuller got her start at Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation and today works at the intersection of fashion and healthcare.

On Sunday, she was to launch an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for her designs for “sensory friendly clothes,” which use compression as a type of deep pressure therapy to calm down teenagers and children who are on the autism spectrum.

Although Fuller had already created one compression shirt for teens, the Indiegogo will roll out more products and designs during National Autism Awareness Month.

We caught up with her to ask some questions about the new line and her sense of the need for more teen-friendly health products.

Why are compression shirts a helpful thing to offer kids on the autism spectrum?

Weighted blankets help with those who are hyposensitive, meaning their senses are diminished. They desire that pressure because it helps to ground them or calm them down, or helps focus them. Weights are one way to do that, but compression is another way. Think of it like swaddling a baby.

Is it like Under Armour?

The shirts that places like Under Armor make are more for athletic ability and blood flow than they are pressure therapy, so they have less spandex in them, typically. My shirts usually have about 12 percent spandex, and theirs have 5 to 8 percent. The type of fabric I’m using, and how you make the pattern for the actual garment, makes it tighter and hug in the different areas that people need it to.

I have it tighter in the torso than in the sleeves. It’s not the same kind of compression all the way around. When I first started, I did a survey of parents, OTs (occupational therapists) and people with autism, and asked where they desired that deep-pressure therapy the most. The majority of people wanted it in their torso area. When I tested it with different kids, a lot of them didn’t need it tighter in the arms, they just wanted it tighter on the chest and the stomach.

What interested you about fashion health care work?

I actually went into fashion design because I was kind of irritated and felt like everything that is usually designed for a person with a medical condition is pretty ugly and outdated, and assumes that because you have a medical condition, you don’t care about quality or style. My grandpa has polio, and I just saw that as he was starting to get more into a wheelchair — he likes to wear suits — the clothes he liked would ride up in different areas.

I figured I would go into fashion design to create better clothing for people in wheelchairs. Then it kind of morphed into working with biomedical students on diabetic footwear, and compression garments. I saw that there was a pretty big need for making more stylish clothing for teens.

What are you working on for teens now?

I’m doing a short-sleeved version of the shirt, and then doing some graphics on it as well. I have a friend who’s a really amazing illustrator, and she got feedback from some of the kids I previously had test the shirt and picked out this really amazing graphic. It’s a wolf, something that’s going to look really amazing on a shirt. I’ll also start developing a blazer, something that can be worn if a family has to go to a nicer event. But I will have it be out of that compression-type material.

Is it hard to cater to teenagers’ needs or tastes?

So far, they’ve been great. And they’ve given me feedback on colors and prints they want on it. And I think if what they’re concerned about is the color and print, that’s a little bit easier to change than the overall style and the design of the shirt. But yeah, they’ve been really good and honest with feedback, so it’s been fun.

What reaction do you want people to have?

I don’t want people to think this is a silver bullet and that it will help fix, or solve, a lot of problems. But if it helps their child calm down, even just for a little bit, or helps them feel more comfortable … You shouldn’t know that that person has autism because they’re wearing it. Everyone should want one.

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Anne writes for Rochester Magazine and the Post Bulletin. She hails from Lafayette, Indiana and enjoys reading, tea-drinking, and her cat, Newt Scameownder.

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