When Patti Connell was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, she asked her daughter, Alexandra, to find her a leopard print cane, instead of the sterile, gray canes that are commonly given to patients.
“I didn’t realize until my mom got sick how powerful fashion was,” says Alexandra Connell, a Denver-based entrepreneur. For people with disabilities looking for goods that are stylish and useful, the choices dwindle quickly. Alexandra, founder of Patti + Ricky, noticed the power of fashion in expressing oneself, which inspired her to start an online store that supplies goods for adults and kids with disabilities.
“When [my mom] got sick, people started treating her differently,” says Alexandra. “Fashion allowed her to connect people with who she truly was and express her individuality.” Her mom, Patti, was always very fashionable; she was the president of Kenneth Cole belts and later worked for Swatch Watch in the 80s, before starting up her own company, Sprayology. After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Patti still wanted to be able to express her creative fashion sense.
Alexandra searched high and low for that leopard print cane her mom wanted, but ended up specially ordering a pink cane with roses. “I saw people starting conversations with her and talking to her like she wasn’t sick,” says Alexandra after her mom began expressing her fashionable self with her accessories.
Seeing her mom’s social life bloom due to fashion, Alexandra connected the power of fashion with memories of her cousin Ricky, who was unable to walk and talk, but expressed himself through accessories on his wheelchair and always being the best dressed in any room. “He taught me that you can communicate with people through their eyes,” she remembers.
Connell launched Patti + Ricky in July of 2017 to create an inclusive shopping experience for people of all abilities. In one easy to navigate site, Patti + Ricky sells everything from Braille clothing patches, Cochlear implant accessories, weighted blankets, and more fashionable support pieces for people with disabilities.
Alexandra says the most rewarding part of opening Patti + Ricky has been the customer feedback, “Seeing our customers reposting our photos and being really excited and happy about the clothing and accessories is so inspiring,” she says. “I’m so happy that they’re proud enough to be showing the world that our clothing and accessories are working for them, as a tool as well as being fashionable and stylish.”
Even more inspiring are the photos of customers using goods from her store in their daily life, which Alexandra says gets her through the topsy-turvy world of being an entrepreneur.
Kerry Emsing’s sister Kim won heart charms from a Patti + Ricky contest on Instagram and gave them to Kerry’s daughter Kara, who wears hearing aids. “Kara is picky at times but she fell in love with these instantly,” says Emsing. “They let her feel like she is wearing earrings like her big sister Lillian and they don’t interfere with the hearing aid function. I have since bought her another set and she could not be happier or more proud of her charms.”
In the future, Alexandra says she would love to add an option to Patti + Ricky to allow customers to choose a non-profit to support with their purchase, and continue to show the world how fashion can help everyone express their individuality.