Runway of Dreams Foundation: Q&A with Mindy Scheier
By: Jessie Garten
Mindy Scheier, a fashion designer and mother of a child with disability, started her journey in 2014 after her son Oliver wanted to wear jeans to school, but couldn’t manage the buttons or zippers. Oliver has a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy, which is a group of inherited diseases that damage and weaken your muscles over time. Mindy came to the realization that millions of people around the world must also be struggling to access fashionable clothing that meet their needs. This ultimately sparked the idea for Runway of Dreams Foundation.
What is the mission of your foundation?
Runway of Dreams Foundation is a non-profit organization that works towards a future of inclusion, acceptance, and opportunity in the fashion industry for people with disabilities. Founded on the basis that clothing is a basic human need, the Foundation develops, delivers, and supports programs and events that celebrate people’s differences, break down stereotypes, highlight the need for mainstream adaptive apparel, and showcase people with disabilities in fashion.
Where did your inspiration for fashion come from?
I am a fashion designer by trade and I worked in the industry for over 20 years prior to starting Runway of Dreams Foundation. I have always believed that clothing is representative of personalities whatever that means to each individual. I choose to dress up every day because it inspires me and makes me feel good. Even as a little girl I knew that I wanted to be a part of the industry that had that power...and that was Fashion for me.
How does your foundation help the fashion industry?
In 2014, mainstream brands did not offer adaptive clothing options. This necessitated educating fashion executives about the size of the population of people with disabilities, the potential spending power 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 industry to understand the social responsibility and business opportunities 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.
What is your favorite part of being in the fashion industry?
Fashion has a direct correlation to your self-esteem and expression of who you are. With that kind of impact, it became critically important to make sure that everyone had the ability to feel those things. That is my favorite part of the industry…through clothing you can define who you are...each and every day! I feel privileged to be able to use my knowledge and my love of the fashion industry to effect change and broaden the opportunities for people with disabilities.
What is your least favorite part of being in the fashion industry? What critiques do you have?
I truly love fashion. It is an honor to be part of such a dynamic and creative space. I am thrilled that I get to reshape who is seen in the public eye through the fashion lens. Through Runway of Dreams and my other company, Gamut Management , (A talent management company exclusively for people with disabilities), we are working to help the industry understand that people come in all different shapes, sizes and abilities. I am confident that the vision set forth by Runway of Dreams and Gamut Management will become a reality. The industry is moving slowly but changing mindsets does require patience.
What is your favorite piece of adaptive clothing you’ve designed?
I started designing the modifications that are now used universally with a simple pair of blue jeans. The purpose was to show brands and clothing designers that this could be done. I also knew that they would be able to take what I started and make it work even better with the design teams at major brands allowing for new technologies and ideas to service even quicker. My goal was and still is getting the industry behind me to enable adaptive products to be produced quickly, and available at varying price points and through various distribution channels. So, those jeans will always remain my favorite piece of adaptive clothing because they helped me change an industry.
What is your proudest achievement since founding 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 that is universally identifiable. Runway of Dreams has been at the forefront of introducing this concept, and I am proud of that. Additionally, I revel in the impact our mission has for people with disabilities. During one of our original fit sessions, we brought in kids and adults with all different 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 realize the direct impact we are making is indescribable.
What is the #1 lesson you would like to share with your audience?
The most important thing is to understand that “failure” is another form of “feedback” - and it is critically important for success. If something isn’t working, then it’s just feedback to let you know to take a different path, but it certainly doesn’t mean to give up. I have loved the Runway of Dreams and Gamut Management journey thus far and continue to appreciate listening and learning and improving as we stay dedicated to making fashion inclusion for all a reality.