If you ask Alexandra Connell what the mission of her company is, you’ll get a simple answer: to bring the “cool factor” to inclusive products for kids. And if you ask any of the families around the country who have used her company’s products (everything from wheelchair bag covers to adaptable shoes for leg braces to Braille jewelry) you’d hear one thing: Mission accomplished.
Patti + Ricky, an online inclusive marketplace with the tagline “fashion for all abilities,” was founded by Connell, and was named after both her mother, Patti, who passed away from cancer in 2008, and her cousin, Ricky, who was born with special needs, unable to walk or talk, and passed at the age of 18.
“[Ricky] was the coolest teenager you’ve ever met,” Connell tells Babble. “He was born on Christmas and would give all his presents away to kids in need; he taught me that his wheelchair was a vehicle to where he needed to go and also a fashion statement.”
As for her mother Patti, Connell describes her as an “incredible woman, mom, entrepreneur, and friend to many” who worked in the New York fashion industry and was the epitome of fashion herself. However, when she was diagnosed with a glioblastoma in 2006, she struggled to find medical supplies that complemented her fashion sense during her cancer journey.
Frustrated with a lack of options, Patti asked her daughter for a leopard print cane, and Connell remembers having to go to a medical supply store to custom order one with roses on it.
“It was the closest I could get to leopard print,” she laughs.
Yet that moment became a turning point for both mother and daughter.
“Here she was, a CEO running a company out of the chemo center, and before I gave her the cane, everyone was talking to her like she was a baby just because she had lost her hair,” Connell explains. “Once I gave her the cane, it kind of changed the game. All of a sudden, I saw how powerful fashion could be. People were treating her the way she had always been treated — the way she should have always been treated.”
Connell says she personally has struggled with dyslexia, ADHD, and anxiety. She tells Babble that her mother was always her advocate and supported her throughout her education, fighting against educators who said that her daughter would never make it to high school.
Connell later went onto to graduate from Columbia Teacher’s University, and her own experience with disabilities inspired her to start a non-profit. While doing research, she came across a magnetic button-down shirt designed by a woman whose husband had dealt with Parkinson’s disease, and she was suddenly struck with inspiration: What if she could bring together a marketplace of products, accessories, and clothing for people with all types of special needs in one place?
“I realized it was something we needed,” she notes. “I couldn’t believe it didn’t exist already.”
Today, Patti + Ricky has grown into an online marketplace comprised of over 50 designers offering fashion and function together. The company is expanding so quickly that it is adding close to one new designer every single week.
Connell notes that the majority of her designers are individuals who have direct experience with a disability or special need and have created the very products that they found lacking in the marketplace.
“I love the fact that they’ve experienced some of these disabilities and because of that, they have created products that they know that people want or need,” she explains.
The products that Patti + Ricky offer through their designers meet a diverse set of needs for a wide range of different abilities, including things like:
Shoes for kids with leg braces …
Braille-imprinted jewelry …
And hearing aid and cochlear implant charms that they call “cuties.”
They have even a colorable PICC line cover that kids can fill in while they are getting a treatment or spending time in the hospital — a product that was designed by a woman with Lyme’s disease who saw the need for it.
“We really love to address the needs,” Connell explains. “We say if you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism. Our products aren’t broken up by categories; we meet the needs.”
In addition to meeting specific needs of different conditions and abilities and offering a suggestion section on their site for parents to write in what they are looking for, Connell says that a primary goal in their products for children especially is to bring the “cool factor” to accessories that traditionally haven’t been thought of that way.
“We like to help kids … fit in and feel cool and really celebrate their differences,” she adds. “It’s like when a kid breaks their arm and everyone wants to sign their cast. That’s what we want. We want what people think of as ‘medical accessories’ to feel beautiful and funky and cool.”
Needless to say, the cool factor is definitely working. In fact, the online marketplace has been such a success that Patti + Ricky will also be hosting their very first pop-up shop next month in New York City.
True to form, Connell says that the pop-up shop, located by Grand Central Station in a donated space, will be the first physical store of its kind, dedicated to individuals with disabilities. Naturally, the store will include a full range of accommodations, such as wheelchair-height fixtures, Braille tags, two free downloadable apps to assist customers to navigate the physical space, fidget accessories, noise-cancelling headphones, and more.
“We really thought about lighting and sound and smell — all five senses to really make people feel comfortable while shopping,” she explains. “We are excited to be the first accessible store for people with disabilities. It’s going to be really beautiful.”