When Brittany Burke was just 20 years old, she got the news no sister wants to hear: her 16-year-old brother Brandon was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing sarcoma. And it was in a late-stage — even spreading to his bone marrow.
As her brother fought cancer, he was instructed to have life-saving surgery. But then, according to Burke, due to surgical complications, her brother was forced to amputate his leg.
This situation would end up being the catalyst for where Burke is today: the founder of UNITEable, an inclusive clothing company introducing fashionable, functional clothing for various body types and needs.
Burke, now 34, launched UNITEable in February of 2021 by introducing two functional styles of pants for women.
The last decade of her life prepared her for this moment. Burke attended Virginia Commonwealth University for fashion merchandising. It was here that she learned of her younger brother’s cancer diagnosis. She took some time off to help her family, and upon returning to school, Burke had a newfound purpose.
“I just wanted to give back,” Burke said. “I started to identify with fashion for a cause.”
Soon, Burke began creating and hosting fashion shows and fundraisers. Her first event was a fashion show raising money for the VCU Massey Cancer Center, Virginia’s first National Cancer Institute-designation cancer center. Her second event was part of Richmond Fashion Week, where she also raised money for Massey Cancer Center, this time to the tune of $10,000.
Because of her brother, Burke started to recognize the difficulties people with disabilities often face when trying to find clothing — especially people with limb differences. Specifically, through her research, she found that women with disabilities and limb differences struggled to find functional yet fashionable products.
“I felt called to this space,” Burke said. “After this experience with my brother, and after hosting events, I began to identify that this was a space that I wanted to pursue. I just had to find the right vehicle for that.”
After college, she didn’t dive into adaptive fashion right away. She spent eight years in California, where she worked for a manufacturer and learned sales and product development. In 2019 Burke moved to Austin, Texas, to be a part of an accelerator program called The Founders Institute. Here is where she honed in and carved out the path for UNITEable.
Her goal: fill a market void and create inclusive, functional, yet fashionable products.
Burke was moving quickly to launch, and then the Covid-19 pandemic struck. She put the launch on hold for a year.
The delay gave Burke time to, as she says, “fine-tune” her products and launch. Finally, on February 26, 2021, she was able to show the world what she’d been working on, launching two pairs of women’s pants, one with a flair, the other an easy dressing skinny pant.
Burke says her designs, which she and a professional designer create, are based on community feedback.
“The direction of this brand is what the community wants to see; the brand is built for them, it’s not built for me,” she said. “I think that’s been the biggest thing is just talking with as many people as possible, getting as much feedback as possible, surveying people to see where are the largest unmet needs and where should we go in the future.”
Burke also gets community feedback through social media, where she uses ambassadors online to model and market her products.
All of UNITEable’s clothing is made in the United States. First, manufacturing happened in El Paso, but now it’ll happen in Austin.
Burke says her next products could be in the realm of athletic wear and athleisure clothing.
“It’s a balance of having products that provide specific niche solutions for certain needs, while also being able to have products that are versatile enough for a wider market,” Burke explained.
“We use the word radical inclusivity. And, as cheesy as that sounds, I think that it speaks volumes. We are looking to build that sense of community and empower people and give them back independence… while pushing some of the perceptions or the boundaries of certain opinions on what adaptive fashion should look like.”