Massachusetts

Mass. company aims to make fashion a zip for people with disabilities

The founders of befree, based in Swampscott, Massachusetts, hope to help make getting dressed easier for people with limited mobility

NBC Universal, Inc.

On the eve of her teen's surgery, Dana Palmer-Donnelly of Hingham, Massachusetts, was in a frantic search to find clothes for him to wear during his recovery.

Carter Donnelly, 16, has a genetic disorder limiting his mobility, and an intellectual impairment that confines him to communicating only non-verbally. For six weeks, he was due to have a cast on each leg.

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Clothing for Carter has always been an issue; the surgery exacerbated the situation — until his mom discovered a pair of pants online from a company in Swampscott called "befree."

"There's kind of a saying with kids with special needs: You celebrate the little things – the little things matter," Palmer-Donnelly said. "Any little thing that's made easier, it's huge."

For people with disabilities like Carter's, it's rare to feel included in fashion retail.

Nikki Puzzo, a mom from Swampscott, knows that first-hand. Her daughter, Stella, has cerebral palsy.

Getting in and out of clothes was an endless struggle. That's why Puzzo and longtime friend Joanne DiCamillo created befree, a run-from-home company that designs pants with zippers down the leg — giving wearers the freedom to dress with a lot less effort, despite mobility challenges.

"We decided, because there was nothing out there, that we needed to make a difference," Puzzo said. "And if this changed Stella's life, it can change so many people's."

Word is spreading about befree since its launch of a new pant design 15 months ago.

Last fall is when Palmer-Donnelly found them. She's become an advocate for the product, not only because the company solved her family's problem, but because befree understands her family's challenges.

"She's one mom who had a struggle and created this whole business to deal with that. And you're seeing now some other companies do that, too," she said.

On the day of Carter Donnelly's surgery, Dicamillo volunteered to drive the purchased pants to Boston Children's Hospital to ensure Palmer-Donnelly's son didn't go a single day without them following his procedure.

"I mean, that was like, either go home from the hospital in a blanket or a pair of pants," DiCamillo said.

"It ended up being over an hour that she waited," Palmer-Donnelly recalled. "She found a task to run in the city and then came back and literally hand-delivered them to me. It was so nice."

"He's going out of the OR and going right into befree pants," she added. "It was great!"

This summer, befree is almost through the development of two additional products: shorts and leggings.

A new partnership with the Lynn-Swampscott-based Jauron Family Foundation means families who are in need of befree products but can't afford them can apply for financial assistance.

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