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Accessible Clothing is Changing with Runway of Dreams

Mindy Scheier, Founder and CEO of Runway of Dreams

Care+Wear has exclusively interviewed Mindy Scheier, Founder and CEO of Runway of Dreams. She talks about why she started the non-profit and what adaptive clothing means to her.  You can learn about them more here

The Evolution of Runway of Dreams

Can you share with us the origin story of Runway of Dreams?

One of the driving forces that led me to start Runway of Dreams was my experience with my son Oliver. I am a fashion designer by trade and mom of a child with Muscular Dystrophy. At 8 years old, Oliver communicated that he wanted to wear jeans like everyone gets to wear. But, because of his Muscular Dystrophy, he struggled to be able to do buttons and to fit his leg braces under the jeans. So, he wore sweatpants every day.

When he communicated to me that he wanted to wear something else besides sweatpants, it was very clear that wearing sweatpants was affecting his confidence. That night I modified his jeans so that he could wear them to school, he showed an immediate change in his confidence, and opened my eyes to the fact that everyone deserves to wear what they want to wear and feel as confident as they possibly could! So in 2014, I launched Runway of Dreams with a “small” goal of changing the fashion industry to be inclusive of people with disabilities.

What stories from the foundation have left the biggest impression on you?

During one of our original fit sessions, we brought in both kids and adults with all different types of disabilities. One of the participants was a 15 year- old boy named Liam who had Muscular Dystrophy and had been in a wheelchair his entire life. We gave him one of the magnetic front closure shirts to try on and he said to me “Can you imagine that I am 15 years old and this is the first time I have been able to dress myself?” To be part of someone’s experience like that, is indescribable.

The Impact of Inclusivity

How has Runway of Dreams revolutionized the fashion space?

In 2014 mainstream brands did not offer adaptive clothing options. This necessitated educating fashion executives about the potential spending power of people with disabilities and the fact that modifications could be made to mainstream clothing to make them more wearable for people with disabilities. It took time to change mindsets, leading the fashion houses to understand the social responsibility and business opportunity associated with providing clothing options to this underserved population.

In 2016, Runway of Dreams partnered with Tommy Hilfiger to create fashion history by creating the first ever mainstream adaptive clothing line for kids which is now Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive and is available for both kids and adults. Since then Zappos.com, Target, Kohl’s, Stride Rite and Nike have all moved into the Adaptive space. It’s so exciting to see the impact that our mission has had in such a short amount of time.

How have you seen Runway of Dreams transform and impact our world at large?

Clothing has a direct correlation to self-confidence. For example, if you are leading a meeting, presenting in a classroom or going on a first date- your level of confidence would be affected by what you wear. If you are wearing a t-shirt or sweatpants during these experiences, you would feel a lot different if what you were wearing was more appropriate. There is actually a psychologically term called “enclothed cognition” – which is the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes. This feeling is felt by everyone. Whether you have a disability or not. Runway of Dreams helped to open the eyes of the fashion industry that everyone deserves to feel good in what they wear.

The Future of Adaptive Fashion

What was your most memorable fashion moment from one of Runway of Dreams’ Adaptive Runway Shows?

To be honest, each and every model and show has a lasting impact. But, one of my all-time favorite memories was being able to witness a woman in her 20s with a limb difference showing her difference off to the world for the first time in her life on our runway because we offered her a place where she felt included and valued. It just doesn't get better than that.

Being a part of New York Fashion Week as a whole has solidified our seat at the “fashion” table and paved the way for people with disabilities to be seen as consumers too.

What is your vision for the future of Runway of Dreams?

It would be my dream to see a complete integration of people with disabilities in every aspect of the industry from our Runways to brick and mortar stores. I would like adaptive clothing to be a category universally identifiable; just like petite, maternity and plus size. Runway of Dreams will continue to raise awareness to the need for mainstream adaptive clothing, college club presence, and wardrobe grants and scholarships too.

Diving Deep into the College Clubs

What inspired you to create the College Clubs program, and what excited you the most about them?

The College Club Program was created to capture the passion of the next generations to further our mission. These bright young minds have the resources, enthusiasm, a passion to be socially responsible, and creativity to execute empowering adaptive runway shows featuring models with varying disabilities. With the guidance and support of our Runway of Dreams home office, these clubs serve to build awareness, and often inspire students to think more broadly about how to make an impact in areas that will make the lives of people with disabilities better through the basic need of clothing.

How have you seen students within the College Clubs create innovations within the adaptive space?

I have seen graduating college club students choose careers in industries that focus on bettering the lives of people with disabilities. I am thrilled that many students are putting their focus on adaptive design. Additionally, many of those students go on to support Runway of Dreams long after they graduate by contributing to our Junior Board of Directors, and volunteering for our Runway shows.

Mindy Scheier, Founder and CEO of Runway of Dreams and her son Oliver

The Importance of Accessibility

What would you tell people who are looking to make changes in their life and find purpose in their pain?

I have found it very cathartic to share my story but that is a personal decision. My belief has always been that one idea can change the world.. whether that is changing just one life or many. In my son’s situation, his disease is degenerative so we have to sit on the sidelines and watch his muscles break down over time. But in our pain, we found joy by learning and growing from his experience to ultimately help others and hopefully change an industry.

What does inclusivity mean to you?

As I heard from my dear friend, Estela Lugo..

“Accessibility is being able to get in the building. Diversity is getting invited to the table. Inclusion is having a voice at the table. Belonging is having your voice heard at the table”

How do you showcase fashion in your everyday life?

I believe that clothing is representative of personalities whatever that means to each individual person. I choose to dress up for every day because it makes me feel good and reflects my personality. A great outfit and a fabulous red lip canreally put a smile on your face!

Photo credits WorldRedEye.com

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