Models pose while wearing adaptive easy to wear lingerie from Liberare.

Emma Butler and the conversation around easy to wear, sexy lingerie for women with disabilities

When Emma Butler's mother was diagnosed with fibromyalgia — a chronic, painful condition affecting the spine, she found it hard to wear regular bras and underwear. She decided to do something about it.

When Emma Butler's mother was diagnosed with fibromyalgia — a chronic, painful condition affecting the spine, she found it hard to wear regular bras and underwear. Emma was in University and was upset by this. Clothes and innerwear tend to define and reflect one's confidence and appearance, and women with disabilities should be fashionable too. She spoke and met with many women with disabilities to understand their challenges around adaptive clothing.

Butler thinks that intimates are just like any form of fashion, a tool for self-expression. She feels that freedom to dress up as we choose is important and everyone should have this choice. “Any tool that helps people to express how they are feeling, who they want to be, what’s important to them, their sexuality and desirability, is important. Fashion is a great tool for that, and it’s critical to one's self confidence,” she says. 

In a quest to make life a little less painful for her mother and other women with disabilities, Butler started a blog called Intimately. For a few months in 2019, while she was still in Brown University, she researched the internet, spoke to people and sold innerwear (through her blog) from some other brands that made adaptive bras and underwear.

In 2022, Butler launched Liberare, a range of her own adaptive bras, underwear and sleepwear. Butler feels she is a big proponent in building and making available tools which are accessible for self expression of all individuals.

The bras from Liberare  have new front fastening mechanisms that make it easy to put on. They have a three way lock inside them and are without painful underwire. They are held securely all day and are easy to remove without any pinching or having to align anything. The underwear range is side opening making it easy to slip it on while sitting on a bed or wheelchair without having to bend over. Liberare products are made in a way that suits women with various sizes, disabilities and chronic pain related conditions.

In the beginning, Butler wasn’t thinking in terms of starting a business. She was looking for a solution for her mother’s problem and saw the limited choices in the market which prompted her to take action. 

“I just wanted to help folks get dressed easier. There was no business plan; it just started out of a real necessity,” Butler reflects.

The global market for accessible or adaptive fashion is estimated to be at USD 4,226.1 million by 2027. Several brands like Slick Chicks, Alter Ur Ego, Care + Wear and others have started creating and selling adaptive, accessible clothing. Every woman should have the right to fashionable clothing and comfortable, sexy lingerie without the pain of getting into a wired bra or trying to bend even when it's painful, Emma feels. 

Perhaps Butler’s selfless intention of helping women with disabilities was a beckoner and led investors to believe in her and the brand. “We raised around a million dollars before we even launched any products. This was in October 2021 and we launched our products in February the next year. I’m so grateful that we have a really amazing group of investors. Many of them are from France, the US, and the UK and they have been an incredible support system,” Butler adds. Six months after launching their first products, Liberare started working with Aerie, an intimates and lifestyle retailer and brand owned by American Eagle Outfitters.  

From the beginning, Butler and her brand has collaborated with a community of women with disabilities, who also work for Liberare. Butler calls this an ‘amazing, online closed group of young, disabled women’. 

“All of us come together and chat about things like how do you have sex on your wheelchair or where is the best place to place my disability on my Bumble profile. Someone could ask about a daily hack to get dressed easier with a blazer, etc,” Butler says. 

Liberare has built a space which is a safe one to vent or discuss anything that concerns the community. “Our products are all chosen and tested by our community members during our rigorous testing process, and it’s a great place to hang out too,” Butler adds.

Emma Butler was named by Women’s Wear Daily as one of the "Most Inspiring Women Leaders of 2023" and was featured in Times Square in March of 2023 for this recognition. Butler was also named Forbes Next 1000.

As many brands are now manufacturing garments and dresses for every body type, and are including plus sizes, Butler is a strong supporter of women with disabilities and believes they should not be left behind. Adaptive clothing should be a part of every brand, she feels.