Grace Colton - She/Her
Fashion Designer and Founder of Gray & May
Grace Colton is the founder and designer of Gray and May, a sensory friendly clothing brand for children and adults. Gray and May garments are designed to feature lots of sensory friendly details without a compromise on style - they are for people who want their clothing to be comfortable as well as beautiful.
Please tell us about your career
I am working within fashion/clothing/design/sewing, and I like it because for me it’s the perfect combination of two of my main strengths: maths/logic and art/creativity (sewing pattern design uses a mix of both). Textiles/design had always been one of my strengths but after leaving school I went on to study Maths at university (King’s College London). When I was diagnosed autistic back in 2019, I’d been working in data management for the previous 5 years but my diagnosis had lead me to reassess my life and make changes to better suit me and my brain, which included leaving an intense and stressful work environment and lifestyle. During the earlier months of the pandemic lockdowns, I did a lot of thinking about how my life had been affected by being undiagnosed Autistic, existing in a world that’s not always designed for people like me. I was learning new things everyday about how my brain works, my sensory needs and adjusting my life to improve my wellbeing as an Autistic person. It got me thinking as to whether there were shops or clothing companies that were wholly sensory-friendly as standard, since I knew what a difference it made to my day when I wore certain styles of clothing. I soon realised that this was something that I would love to create myself. I now design and make clothing for adults and children who normally find inside seams too uncomfortable, labels too itchy and who prefer their clothing made from soft, natural fabrics.
I currently make clothes for sensory-avoiders, but have plans to create pieces for sensory-seekers too with tactile features on garments. I would also love to expand into selling sewing patterns as well since sensory-friendly sewing patterns aren’t something that is widely available, whilst also allowing people to choose to make their garments in whichever fabrics are best suited to their own (or their relatives) sensory needs.
Since sensory-friendly clothing and/or sewing patterns aren’t widely available, everything I design and make is adapted from information from various different locations (eg. pairing a fit of a trouser with a seam that wouldn’t usually be used on that type of garment, and then constructing the pattern pieces in a different order to cater for the change) - you can’t just, say, buy a book or take a course on how to design and make sensory-friendly clothes - standard practise in the industry doesn't account for sensory needs, so there’s some form at adaptation at pretty much every step of the way, which obviously means more thought and time goes into the process.
Juggling burnout recovery with running a business has both ups and downs because whilst you can manage your own schedule and take breaks when needed, you also don’t have anyone else to support you with the work load, and comparison definitely gets in my head at times (comparing my current self to my pre-diagnosis/high masking self mainly, and also comparing myself to other people).
I feel a mix of things, but mainly hopeful and excited - the fashion industry is a multi-billion pound industry yet rarely caters for sensory/ND/disabled needs, so if I can even contribute to a small part in changing that then I’d say that is pretty exciting!
What advice would you give to another Neurodivergent woman navigating their way through life?
Trust yourself. Do what is right for you. Don’t be scared to walk away from people who aren’t good for you or those that are committed to misunderstanding you. I’ve learnt that I need a lot more rest than most, and that’s ok. Noise cancelling headphones are the best thing I’ve ever bought. Don’t be afraid to communicate your needs to people - those that really care will help you and love you.