The Durban University of Technology BTech Fashion and Textile student, Balini Naidoo explored designing a braille identification system for clothing that will assist blind individuals in becoming more self-reliant and independent when making clothing choices.
Naidoo was one of the 14 DUT Fashion Students who showcased their unique, futuristic designs at the BTech Fashion Exhibition, which was held at the Brickfield Campus, recently. The students created designs for the exhibition which formed part of the annual practical component of their course.
“Having a family member who is visually impaired has made me aware of the many struggles that are faced by the unsighted. Some difficulties include daily clothing identification and clothing choices made without assistance. In a South African content, I feel there is a gap in the market,” said Naidoo.
She (Naidoo) explored designing a braille identification system (a writing system for vision-impaired or sightless people, consisting of patterns of raised dots that are read by touch). She designed her clothing in the hope that it will assist blind people in becoming more self-reliant and independent when making clothing choices.
“According to the South African National Council for the Blind, the local communities in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, and surrounding areas are faced with daily struggles in terms of self-imagery and making daily clothing choices.” Naidoo used an exploratory research approach led by the non-linear design thinking process focusing on five key stages of empathising, defining, ideating, prototyping and testing, in designing the braille identification system.
Naidoo said she finds joy in helping others and found that through her practice she could fulfill this concept as a fashion designer. In terms of her study, she researched internationally and locally to inquire if this concept had been done before and she came to the conclusion that it had not been explored. In the process of her research, she had to learn basic braille to apply to her concept while being innovative.
Furthermore, Naidoo explained that the usage of the key stages such as empathising was to look at a way of understanding visually impaired needs; defining, re-framing and defining the problem in a human-centric way; generating ideas; prototyping, creating and testing a number of inexpensive, scaled down versions of the braille products and mainly vigorously testing the braille system on visually impaired individuals to see how they felt wearing such garments.
Finding the right colour and fabric was her personal preference, however, for her collection, she chose to use monotone medium weight woven as this was in her price range and easily accessible in the Durban area.
Going forward, Naidoo wants to work in the fashion industry, perhaps in Cape Town and hopefully pursue her Master’s in Fashion and Textiles. With regards to her creative designs, Naidoo is considering approaching South African brands as a future possibility to showcase her braille range.
Naidoo also hopes her study will inspire more South African fashion designers and students to embrace the use of innovative designs for social responsibility in their practice.
Pictured: Models, Keith Thaver, Simone Bufe’ with Balini Naidoo.
Photo: Thobelani Mdletshe