Runners-Up: $5,000

Aille Design
What first started as my final University research project has since evolved organically into the internationally recognized and award-winning braille fashion brand, Aille Design (pronounced: eye). I went from sewing one bead at a time in my dorm room to being a clue on Celebrity Jeopardy and having my designs worn on stage by Andrea Bocelli.

My company Aille Design works with the blind and visually impaired community to create fashion-forward clothing and accessories that feature fully legible braille in the form of beadwork. The braille on the items ranges from physical descriptions to empowering statements and is designed so that the braille is the focal point of each piece. The designs are functional for braille readers, but so beautiful that they can be loved and worn by anyone. Ultimately, they allow you to literally wear your values on your sleeve and promote conversation about the importance of accessibility. Each piece is co-designed with the community and a percentage of profits are donated to local visually impaired organizations.
When I first had the idea for braille fashion, many of my fellow fashion peers made comments like “Well if you’re blind, why would you care what you look like?”, but those misconceptions could not be further from the truth. I left a good paying full-time job in order to pursue my dreams and bootstrap Aille Design. I knew what we were building could have a huge impact on disability inclusion and awareness and I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way. Now, we are creating a completely new segment in the fashion industry, have increased revenue by 300% in the last year, and are on track to be the leading supplier of braille merchandise in North America.

Growing our business in the aftermath of Covid-19 and navigating the current economic situation has been challenging, but we have adjusted and persevered by focusing on our clients’ needs over everything else. With rising inflation and tightening consumer spending, we are prioritizing the creation of closet staples that will stay relevant regardless of current fashion trends. We believe that fast fashion is detrimental to the environment and leads to unnecessary consumer spending. By creating high-quality timeless pieces, we have managed to grow Aille Design despite the economic downturn. These decisions reaffirm our commitment to sustainable fashion practices and provide customers with a trustworthy product that speaks to their values.

It has been incredible to see the impact that Aille Design has had on the disability community and the inclusive fashion industry. Just a few years ago people questioned why inclusive fashion was important. Now, major brands and organizations are reaching out to us as experts on the topic and looking to collaborate with our brand. In recent months we have sold branded braille merchandise to Amazon, Wendy’s, and the NBA-G League to help promote their accessibility initiatives and DEI values. Aille Design was even named by Newsweek as “The Braille Clothing Brand Changing the Fashion Game.”