Kerry Baez, a 34-year-old below-knee amputee, had a fairly easy recovery from the traumatic car accident that took her right leg two months before her 26th birthday. However, she found that trying to go back to living her normal life was impossible when it came to wearing a simple fashion essential—jeans. That’s when her sheer frustration and her idea to solve the problem gave rise to a new business, BKQ Amputee Boutique.
“My prosthetist made my prosthesis so real looking that I think I cried for an hour when I first saw it,” Baez recalls. “However, the cosmetic covering is not practical with my favorite style of jeans.” After looking online for adaptive clothing for young amputee women, she came up short, only finding options she found less fashion forward that used Velcro. “I wasn’t ready for Velcro,” she says. Baez wanted to be able to wear her favorite jeans but also have access to her prosthesis. If she sacrificed her style to wear baggy or Velcro clothing, she would not feel confident.
This frustration led her to a fabric store where she purchased a coat zipper. She then took her favorite pair of jeans to a tailor and explained that she wanted the zipper sewn into the leg. When she came back to pick them up, she was elated with the results. “I wore those jeans out,” she says.
It turns out that zipper was life-changing. It was the best option to retain the style she desired while also giving her access to her prosthesis. “No one hands you an amputee guidebook when you become an amputee,” Baez says. Her grandmother, who had lost her foot due to diabetes, was the only other amputee she knew. “I just looked to the internet for options but came up with nothing,” she says.
“I got a lot of compliments going through airport security and from other amputees at my office visits,” Baez says about her altered jeans, “[so] I decided to learn to sew and offer my services.”
Baez apprenticed under a woman who owned her own shop and taught Baez how to sew for free. Baez started off catering to women with below-knee amputations, but quickly realized that men wanted the same services. She opened BKQ Amputee Boutique, which stands for Below-the-Knee Queens, in October 2016 and has already been able to help many people.
“I know I’m not the first one ever to sew…a zipper into the inseam of jeans,” she says. “All I’m doing is providing a service to my fellow below-knee amputees who want that option. I did this purely out of need for myself and decided to offer it to others.”
Some of the people who benefit from her services are teachers. Unlike other types of workers, amputees who are teachers can’t just leave the classroom whenever they have an issue with their prosthesis. However, being able to discreetly unzip a pant leg to make a quick adjustment from behind a desk can be critical to providing the comfort they need to do their job. Baez also gets alteration orders from nurses and others in the medical field who also need to make quick adjustments on the go without time for a trip to the bathroom.
Before her accident, Baez wasn’t settled on a career. However, opening BKQ Amputee Boutique has given her a great sense of purpose.
A typical day starts at 4 a.m. After she drops her daughter off at school, she heads to the gym for an hour and then goes home to work on alterations. If she finishes early, she’ll spend some time promoting her business on social media, spreading the word as far as she can. “I work really hard because it’s worth it,” she says.
She has gained personal satisfaction from helping others through her business and connecting with other amputees. “Not every below-knee amputee needs my service, but if they do, I want to be there for them in any way—even if it’s just to listen, give advice, or share how I approach things,” she says. “Whatever the concern or question, I’m available to be of service to my amputee community.”
Her website, www.bkqamputee.com, offers fashionable clothing for women amputees, as well as jean alterations for men, women, and children.