We are all works in progress; even the successful women you look up to faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. In this series, we’re sitting down with the people that inspire us to find out: How’d they do it? And what is success really like? This is “Getting There.”
Maura Horton and Sinéad Burke have never actually met in person, but they’re working closely together to make the fashion industry more inclusive for people with disabilities. Horton, 51, is the inventor of MagnaReady, an adaptive clothing line that replaces zippers and buttons with magnetic closures, and Burke, 30, is an activist and the first little person to be featured on the cover of Vogue U.K.
Both women are passionate about adaptive fashion and inclusivity and have teamed up to launch JUNIPERunltd, an e-commerce platform and interactive online community that highlights products and topics pertinent to people with disabilities or health conditions and their caregivers.
TMRW caught up with Horton and Burke and learn about their hopes for JUNIPERunltd, their career paths and their advice for other entrepreneurs. Here’s what they had to say.
TMRW: How did you two meet?
Maura Horton: Part of the journey to make JUNIPERunltd a reality was building a team that consisted of experts from the fashion industry as well as members of our community — people with disabilities, health challenges, the aging community and caregivers — who could help design the future. And because of the pandemic, we’ve actually never all met in person.
Sinéad is in Ireland, I’m in North Carolina, some of the team is in New York and we even worked with a video team in New Zealand remotely to create the first JUNIPER campaign video. Having to do everything virtually has definitely added a layer of challenges, but it’s also created opportunities for more creativity and unique thinking, which is exactly what we need to be doing to enact change.
You’ve both been doing great work related to adaptive fashion and inclusivity. What inspired you to join forces and create JUNIPERunltd?
MH: My journey into adaptive fashion began when my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in his 40s. That led to the creation of MagnaReady, the world’s first magnetic dress shirt. As the brand grew, I teamed up with Global Brands Group, which eventually led to a partnership to launch JUNIPERunltd. I was at a crossroads after my husband’s death. I knew I wanted to continue to not only advance the adaptive fashion movement, but I also knew I wanted to help grow a resourceful community. I wasn’t sure what that would look like and I am thankful that I was able to become a part of the Global Brands Group team and that they believed in this vision.
Sinéad Burke: As a disabled woman, my understanding of the power of clothes to exhibit identity was almost innate. But that’s not something I began to articulate until I was a teenager and realized that what I chose to wear could challenge society’s perceptions of me as a little person and invite them into who I am. Despite clothes having this power, the fashion industry was designed to be exclusive and it needed to change. When the opportunity came along to join Maura and the JUNIPERunltd team, I couldn’t say no.
Where does the name JUNIPERunltd come from?
MH: The name Juniper comes from the evergreen tree, which is also known as the Eastern red cedar and is in the cypress family. Juniper connotes protection, optimism, friendship and hope. We paired the name with the word ‘unlimited’ because the concept of JUNIPERunltd comes from imagining a world where life is inclusive and the future is unlimited.
Why was it important for you to include content on the site in addition to serving as an e-commerce spot?
MH: The underlying goal of JUNIPERunltd is to empower the community and change perceptions so that everyone in the community can design their future, whether that is just a simple change tomorrow or a change that has global impact years down the road. Product plays an important role in this, but knowledge sharing and storytelling does too.
What kind of an impact do you hope the site has on readers/shoppers?
MH: We hope that JUNIPERunltd becomes a site that the community automatically visits to consume engaging, entertaining and educational content that is authentic and aligns with their lives and experiences. Wherever you are on your arc in life, we hope to be a beacon if you need resources, want to discover new products or interact with other members of the community.
“Being disabled is fundamental to who I am, what I believe in and the causes that I stand for…”
How have your personal experiences influenced the career paths you’ve taken so far?
SB: As a disabled woman, my identity has shaped my interests and my ambitions. It has even molded my personality. If I wasn’t disabled, I wouldn’t have been a teacher, I wouldn’t be interested in fashion and I wouldn’t be working with the brilliant team at JUNIPERunltd. I would be an entirely different person. Being disabled is fundamental to who I am, what I believe in and the causes that I stand for, and it has been the blueprint for the professions I’ve sought out and all that I want to pursue in the future.
MH: If Don had not been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and I had not become his caregiver, I may never have discovered the need for functional, stylish, adaptive clothing. My personal experience is the source of my career in adaptive fashion, which is something I think is true for many people. So many of the designers and founders that we work with were inspired by personal needs. It is incredible to witness what we can achieve together when we work to design the future from an inclusive perspective.
What advice would you have for someone who’s looking to turn something they’re passionate about into their career?
SB: I’d ask that you embrace two ways of thinking. First, consider this phrase: “We don’t know what we don’t know.” We’re shaped by the perspectives that surround us and are often blind to the experience that is different from our own. Be curious, educate yourself and collaborate to witness the world through a new lens. The second way of thinking I encourage is this phrase: “Fail better.” Seeking perfection through passion is an impossible mission. Continuously attempt what makes you nervous and learn from your mistakes.
Why is a site like JUNIPERunltd so important and why do you think now is the right time to launch it?
MH: Fashion has not historically been an inclusive industry, but in recent years the industry has been striving to make changes. Given the current climate of diversity and inclusion, there is no better time than now to launch JUNIPERunltd. We hope that the site will inspire brands to continue to evolve the industry to make it possible to design for every body. We are actively looking for companies involved in the adaptive space, or those that are interested in entering the field, so that we can grow together to better serve the JUNIPERunltd community.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
MH: Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places, and even situations that seem to have no positives at first glance.
SB: Be kind. It’s a phrase that seems to have proliferated our consciousness but as it’s become popular, I think the meaning has been slightly dissolved. For me, kindness is an act of vulnerability. It’s deliberately placing yourself in a position of discomfort; not one that will cause you harm, but one that places the emphasis and priority onto another person, with no benefit or reciprocal value to you. So, take a beat before replying to that person’s email, notice when a colleague is not acting like themselves and remember that what’s important to someone else may not be important to you, but treat it as if it is. Kindness is intangible but a person will never forget how you made them feel.