The Alleles Design Studio—Mixing Fashion, Design, and Function in Prosthetic Covers

Pink! Photo: Alleles Design Studio

So, you thought the series on prosthetic covers was over, didn’t you? I have just one more exciting company to share with you. This company fascinates me because of how they came to be.

Once upon a time there was a young lady who was working on her master’s degree in Industrial Design. While mulling over the disconnect between what is commonly seen on runways, and what truly works in people’s lives, she started thinking specifically about the amputee community. She wondered why all the hardware associated with prosthetics had to look so clinical.

McCauley Wanner approached her supervising professor with the idea of making her thesis project revolve around creating beautiful covers for prosthetic limbs. She was immediately shot down. She was told that amputees would not be interested in showing off their limbs. She was told they didn’t worry about beauty and design, they worried about coping with their life of disability.

Wanner pushed. She was finally given the green light for her project. Her idea was so well received that a new company was born—Alleles Design Studio—and began winning design awards immediately. The Studio is made up of a designing trifecta. Wanner, who is now an award winning industrial designer, brought on Ryan Palibroda, who is an accomplished artist and designer, and Terry Oh, an award winning tattoo artist and the resident amputee who tries out all of the designs on his own prosthetic leg.

Wanner, Palibroda, and Oh - Alleles Design Studio
Wanner, Palibroda, and Oh – Alleles Design Studio Photo: Alleles Design Studio

This Canadian trio stress that they are not prosthetists. They are designers. In fact, one of the common issues they have is instant negativity when prosthetists see their ideas. Messing with prosthetic sockets is sacred ground to those who are well trained in the art of making well fitting limbs. When a trio of young adults come around wanting in the door, there can be a chilly reception.

But then the Alleles team explains their goal. Making limbs that amputees no longer have to hide, and creating fashionable designs to cover the precise work done by prosthetists, is all they want. Once the professionals think about what’s best for their patients, they almost always come around.
One of their creations appeared in Toronto’s World Mastercard Fashion Week in March of this year. Athlete and model Amy Palmeiro-Winters surprised the crowd by walking down the runway in a stunning dress, and an even more stunning black lacy prosthetic cover over her prosthetic leg.

In some of the other posts in this series on prosthetic coverings, I’ve told you about fairings, which are different from laminating the actual socket. The Alleles Design Studio makes fairings that fit over an existing sockets and are held on by straps. They can do custom work, but have a very creative line of stock products, which helps to keep the cost down (from $325 to $700). They have new colors in the works, as well as a children’s design line in development.

Everyday legs can be beautiful.
Everyday legs can be beautiful. Photo: Alleles Design Studio

Using laser cutting tools and 3D printers, these three artistic minds come up with some beautiful stuff. Christina Stephens, a strong amputee voice online (you may know her from the video of the Lego leg she made for herself last year), was given an Alleles cover to preview. I was very impressed by the depth of her review. She not only tried out her cover in the way it was originally intended, she showed how you can paint it and embellish it yourself, making your own custom look. This is one video worth clicking over to.

Here are a few fun photos of the work that is coming out of the Alleles Design Studio. All photos are property of Alleles Design Studio.