ALLELES Design Studio: Redesigning the World of Prosthetics

by Jamila Douhaibi | Photo by Camille Candia | Product photos courtesy ALLELES – 

While working on her Master’s degree in Industrial Design in Calgary, McCauley Wanner was researching options for her thesis. She found that the medical industry had overwhelmingly homogenous devices, with very little personalization for the many individuals that use them. She also found that a common thread around fashion was that people, in general, found it frivolous. But McCauley saw fashion as a great tool for identity and self-expression. She started talking to people about the idea of accessorizing their prosthetics, and the positive reaction acted as the initial building blocks for a company she would later start: ALLELES Design Studio.

During her time at the University of Calgary, McCauley met Ryan Palibroda, who was working on his thesis in architecture. She says that the pair spent hours brainstorming and refining her thesis, entitled “Empowering by Revealing: A Study in the Hybridity of Fashion & Prosthetics.” After finishing school, the two cofounded ALLELES in the fall of 2013.

ALLELES is a Canadian-based design and manufacturing studio that creates unique above and below knee prosthetic covers for amputees, clinics and prosthetists around the world. Their studio is located in Victoria, where every cover is individually made for each client. Rather than using 3D printing, the studio creates the covers out of a single piece of FDA-grade ABS plastic, so that each custom piece fits the wearer and can be modified if need be. This technique also maximizes the functionality and durability of the waterproof covers. These adjustable covers attach to a person’s prosthesis with two polyurethane straps with metal hooks, and can be removed for cleaning, or if an individual wants to switch styles.

McCauley and Ryan’s artistic backgrounds extend beyond their time in university. McCauley grew up in remote towns, first in Alberta and then northern Saskatchewan. Both of her parents were creative, constantly doing home redecorating, and building and fixing out of any materials they had. McCauley says that this childhood was a positive enforcement for imagination and problem solving, as well as preparing herself for the tough work ethic needed when starting the company. Ryan, on the other hand, was an exhibiting painter for over 10 years, and McCauley attributes many of the studio’s “little quirks” and great designs to him.

McCauley says that there is a beautiful and exciting process of creating designs for a client’s personality, which pulls together the client’s whole aesthetic. Her favourite cover is one of Ryan’s designs, called Deep Eyes. She says that the cover’s blue background and red honeycomb design, with large circular cut-outs, shows Ryan’s ingenuity in the field of design. His ability to create covers that she believes are ahead of their time, with cool touches and bizarre names, makes him the perfect partner for the company.

McCauley says that she and Ryan ended up in this business in large part because of their personalities. Just as people can choose between so many styles and colours for eyewear, they saw a need for that in the medical world of prosthetics. She says that, for her and Ryan, design is really about “observing the world around you, seeing the potential and beauty in areas that are often overlooked and then addressing these observations through design.” Their creativity led them beyond typical design industries to a place where what they do has a really positive influence.

One of their main missions, of course, is in creating choice. Their website has over 60 designs in their online look book, as well as the ability to choose between 32 curated colours. There is a range of simpler, more economical covers, to the more colourful, or custom, options. ALLELES has also worked hard to ensure that their products will be reimbursed by insurance, if possible. Their website offers a range of information on prices, warranties and more, for anyone interested in purchasing covers from around the world.

The hope for ALLELES, says McCauley, is to enable people to have control over their medical devices. An estimated one billion people in the world experience some kind of disability, but are still such an under-served demographic, and McCauley and Ryan are working to change that reality. McCauley says that her team is optimistic that more designers will “follow us into the medical world and add their magic to the industry.”

To find out more and view their creative covers, visit:

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