Local moms zipping into adaptive fashion world

Amanda Collins Bernier
Baystateparent Magazine
befree co-founders Nicole Puzzo and Joanne DiCamillo showcase their adaptive pants, zipOns, at the Runway of Dreams in Los Angeles.

Moms of children with special needs know that sometimes the most routine task can be a struggle. For Nicole Puzzo, that struggle was putting pants on her youngest daughter, Stella. 

Born with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, Stella underwent hip surgery at 5 years old that required her to wear casts and both legs and a bar between them for three months, making it impossible for her to wear traditional pants. When Puzzo asked doctors for their recommendation for adaptive clothing, she was shocked to learn there was nothing. 

“They talked about blankets, or dresses, or long shirts. I just knew that wasn’t going to work for her,” said Puzzo, a mom of two. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to come up with something better or this is going to be a really long three months.” 

So, Puzzo took apart a pair of pajama pants, removing the outer seam and sewing Velcro in its place. It was a simple, but ingenious fix. 

"It was a game changer in restoring a sense of normalcy for her,” Puzzo said of Stella's recovery. “When we went back to the doctor she was wearing them, and they said ‘this is great. You have to make these, there are so many people who could use these.” 

In 2015, Puzzo partnered with her friend, Joanne DiCamillo, to create befree, an adaptive clothing brand. The Swampscott moms worked together to create prototypes and refine the design for side-opening pants. They moved from Velcro to snaps, before ultimately deciding on a full-length zipper, from waist to hem, on each leg. 

Swampscott moms Nicole Puzzo and Joanne DiCamillo co-founded befree in 2015.

With their design in place, the women sought feedback from medical experts, who suggested they cover the inside zipper so that it could not touch and potentially irritate the skin. That meant a little more redesigning before the final zipOns were created. 

The patented garment make it possible to zip the pants on around the legs in a standing position or while lying down. The calf and hem of the pant can be vented to accommodate braces, casts, and other medical equipment. The zippers are covered in the interior with a full-length flange and a zipper garage at the waist, preventing contact. 

“The design concept for zipOns is simple, but it can truly change lives,” said Puzzo, who’s found the pants can improve lives beyond her daughter’s. zipOns work well for people with varying disabilities, medical conditions, people recovering after surgery and accidents, and more, she said. 

Stella, the inspiration for zipOns, models the adaptive zip-on pants.

After the pandemic stalled their production for two years, the moms were finally able to bring zipOns to the market in March.

That same month, zipOns were featured in Runway of Dreams' 2022 Fashion Revolution fashion show in Los Angeles, joining major brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Zappos, Target and Stride Rite  showcasing adaptive fashion on the runway. 

Seeing the brand come to life has been momentous not just for the co-founders, but for their children, too. 

"This has been going on a long time, and the kids have seen that we’ve had some struggles,” said DiCamillo. “We’re just as passionate now as when we started; we never thought of quitting or stopping. They’ve seen that if you believe in things, you can make it happen.” 

The calf and hem of the pant can be vented to accommodate braces, casts, and other medical equipment.

“They see the difference it makes,” Puzzo agreed. “Something as simple as a pair of pants – what a difference it can make.” 

The moms plan to add pants with a heavier-weight fabric to the line later this year, and are working on designs for other adaptive clothing, including leggings and shirts. 

zipOns are available in youth and adult sizes, small to extra-large at befreeco.com.

zipOns are made with a soft, moisture-wicking polyester fabric, and have an elastic waist.
zipOns pants are designed for people with disabilities, medical conditions, and people recovering after surgery and accidents.